This is the last of our 60th Anniversary Year blog posts. But for all our fans, don’t worry, we will be continuing to blog in other forums. It has been so good to read the experiences of so many women this year: the students and their aspirations, the alumnae and what they have achieved, as well as celebrating our 60th Anniversary events.
During the year, the College has moved on in lots of ways. We have begun to grapple more deeply with how our young women learn and how our supervisions can teach in a way which builds confidence, encourages, challenges and develops resilience to accept getting things wrong. The Gateway Programme has also developed to encompass graduate students and in particular to bring undergraduates (years 2 and 3) together with graduates for the career strand. We have also run the alumnae mentoring pilot for alumnae aged 25-35 years old; a great success and we will be rolling this out shortly.
In College we have just celebrated International Women’s Day with alumnae and students. Two brilliant graduate students, Lorna Omondi from Kenya and Noura Wahby from Egypt spoke about the role and status of women in their home countries. Lorna described some of her women heroes including Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai and how hard they had to struggle to be heard. Noura described the bravery of women in the Egyptian Revolution and what that had meant to the status of women. We were very fortunate too, to have Mariam Khalique with us. She is the head teacher of Malala’s school in the SWAT valley, Pakistan. Again, bravery is what she talked about. The determined bravery of girls to come to school even in the midst of terrorist attacks, including on Malala. And then the feeling that if girls were to want education so badly, their teachers must not let them down. SWAT is somewhat calmer now, though having seen the heart rending attack on the school in Peshawar, no one really knows that will happen next.
Mariam was with us because she was also speaking in the WOW (Women of the World) Cambridge Festival the next day as part of a panel on Girls’ Education internationally. We also heard from our young alumna, Zoah Hedges-Stock who came to us from the showmen traveller community. She described how hard her mother had worked to get her an education, even stopping travelling until Easter each year and stopping again early in September so that Zoah could go to school regularly for at least two terms each year.
The commonality of everything I heard that weekend was the absolute determination of mothers, teachers and girls to get an education. It was deeply moving and made me reflect as always about just how lucky we are.
On the third day, the University held a national conference on Women in Higher Education in the College. It looked at what is happening at student level but also the appalling statistics in University positions. Women are only 16% of Cambridge’s Professors and this is probably little different around the country. We have a long way to go. But the conference, complete with a number of Vice-Chancellors, Heads of Department from around the country, looked at the issues deeply. The changes we are making are deep cultural ones and they need to be well understood. So the discussions ranged from unconscious bias to whether in our so-called meritocracy, merit is judged differently by men and women.
Three thought-provoking days in the life of the College. But it wasn’t all so serious. At the Saturday event, we also had traditional Chinese flute-playing, Persian dancing and most gripping of all, Hip Hop dancing from students of the Kaetsu University, Japan.
All of this was a lovely way to celebrate women. Now on to the next phase of College life!
President, Murray Edwards College