Going to Seminary | Part 8

by Elouise

Nora Ephron quote

By fall 1974 the number of women enrolled in Fuller Seminary’s three schools (Theology, Psychology, and World Mission) had grown to about 50. Male students numbered well over 500.

The Ph.D. event I attended highlighted what was missing at the seminary:

  • Female professors and mentors
  • An office dedicated to concerns of women seminarians, and
  • A safe place to talk with a safe person (not a faculty member).

We had no one besides ourselves to help us negotiate the politics of this white-male dominated seminary. I didn’t know how to think about Ph.D. studies, much less how I might get from here to there. And I had no one except my female student friend to confide in about that Ethics of Sex assignment.

Like most of us, I’d never had a female mentor or faculty advisor. I could count my female professors and instructors on less than one hand–all from the Bible College. None of them taught ‘real’ academic courses. They taught things like Christian Service courses (such as how to make lesson plans for Bible courses), English Literature and Writing, and how to be a proper young lady.

Our support group put together a list of characteristics we wanted in a director of women’s concerns. Was there such a person? We didn’t know.

So what to do next? A new member of our group knew what to do. Boycott all classes until we get what we need! We needed to be bold, and understand our power! I’m not certain we believed her.

Bottom line: We had no skills for negotiating change in an overwhelmingly male population. My gut told me precipitous action would likely fail.

We decided to keep talking and see if we could come up with an alternative. It didn’t take long to reach agreement.

  • At noon on the agreed date, 6 or 7 of us gathered on the walkway outside the provost’s office. We had signs; I don’t remember what they said.
  • We walked into the provost’s office and requested time to talk with him. In the meantime, we would wait out on the walkway.
  • We returned to the walkway and stood or sat silently, waiting. Did we attract attention? We did. But we weren’t there to lobby for support. We wanted time with the provost.
  • We had already agreed to repeat this drill daily, as long as necessary during regular business hours.

It didn’t take long for the provost to find time to meet with us. We told him why we were there and gave him our list of desired outcomes. We didn’t plead or make accusations; we told him we needed his support.

Our conversation with him was friendly, though slightly awkward. He thanked us for our list and said he would get back to us. He jotted down our names and contact information.

A few weeks later the president’s assistant called each of us. The president of the seminary would like to meet with us in his office. We showed up, sat around his conference table, and talked about what we needed and why.

The president didn’t make any promises. He did, however, tell us he had a few ideas about how to proceed from here. He agreed with us; something like this needed to happen. If we had further questions or ideas, please let him know.

The end of this story is less dramatic than the beginning. Yet I know that what we did in the mid-1970s made a difference for women who came later. Some women and men who didn’t live through these times might think it’s demeaning, unnecessary or even unfair to have an office devoted to women’s concerns.

I respectfully disagree. It’s never demeaning or unnecessary—if that office and the persons in it create safety for tough conversations. Women seminarians don’t live in a magical never-never land. They live and study within circumstances that would tax anyone to the max. No matter what year it is.

We still need all the support we can get from each other and from our male allies.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 December 2015
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