Stand up! Fight Back!
The following is a post penned by Chatham alumna, Emily Newport Woodward ’90, describing why fighting for Chatham’s College for Women is so important to her. Pictured with Emily (left) in the photo above is her sister and fellow alumna, Mandy Newport Ippolito ’02. The photo was taken during the weekend when Emily was presented the Distinguished Alumna Award from Chatham.
I’ve struggled the past few weeks to find the words to explain the impact my education from Chatham has had on my life – there just aren’t enough words, but I can tell you without a doubt that there’s no way I’d be where I am today without the foundation I obtained at Chatham. I was a student at Chatham from 1986-1990, not the best years for the institution as a whole, but we students managed to thrive and I believe now more than ever that was because of the faculty. Not only were they committed as educators, they believed in the women’s college and were incredible advocates for us in 1990 when the Board of Trustees announced their intent to take the school co-educational.
It’s ironic, that for all intents and purposes, the same Board of Trustees that found Dr. Barrazzone and “Saved Chatham” back in the early 1990’s is now well on its way, under her leadership, to eliminate what at one time held such value to them. Times change, the College has changed – it’s a University now and for the most part those have all been good things to keep my alma mater relevant in today’s world. What I cannot accept, however, is that in order to continue to stay relevant Chatham College for Women must die.
The Board and the Administration don’t want to hear our criticisms about poor management over the past few years or how it seems as though the College for Women was allowed to flounder while they moved on to move exciting ventures with the graduate programs. I understand that mentality. I’m a trained contract negotiator for the United Steelworkers (USW) and have spent the past 17 years of my adult life fighting most specifically for healthcare benefits for active and retired workers. I’ve sat across the table from the heads of some of the largest companies in America and along with my colleagues we fight the fight for working people. The fight to save Chatham College for Women isn’t much different at its core.
I’m a prime example of the “98%” that Esther speaks of. In the winter of 1986, I was already committed to attend Notre Dame University. I wanted to leave my hometown of Pittsburgh and I certainly had no interest in an all-women’s college 16 miles from home. But my wise mother convinced me to at least go look and on a dreary January day, we went through a tunnel, over a bridge, right past Carlow, Pitt and CMU and went to visit Chatham. I fell in love instantly and quickly changed my plans. The tour was nice and I’m sure the admissions personnel were helpful, but it was the hour or so that I spent with Dr. Frank Lackner (now deceased) that made the decision for me. I could go on about Dr. Lackner, but I think this anecdote puts the impact he had on my life into perspective. When I learned of his passing, I called a caucus from my negotiations with the largest steel company in the world, so that I could pay my respects at the funeral home. My USW committee and company counterparts thought I was nuts, but did agree to taking a break at a rather critical time in the negotiations. That’s what my time at Chatham means to me.
Outside of my immediate staff, I operate every day in an extremely male-dominated environment. I’ve had some wonderful male mentors over the years, but had I not “found my voice” at Chatham, I would have been chewed up and spit out years ago. Not because I’m surrounded by Neanderthals, but because had I not learned how to think, write, speak and stand up for what I believe in I just would have never been successful here or probably anywhere else. I owe that to Chatham (and my Mom).
It is abundantly clear based on the information I’ve learned from various sources that the Chatham of today is not “my Chatham.” I’ve wondered more than once if it’s worth fighting for and then I look up from my desk and see my Distinguished Alumna award – ironically enough made by Steelworkers at Wendell August Forge – and I remember that just 10 short years ago someone on that campus believed that I represented the “World Ready” Chatham woman, that the success I had achieved even at just 7 years into my career with the USW was an example to be recognized.
So I will continue to fight the fight as I was taught at Chatham and have been trained to do professionally. If other stakeholders have been bullied or scared into silence, don’t lose hope as there are many of us out here listening, researching and fighting our best to save the 145 year tradition that is Chatham College for Women.
As we say here in the halls of the USW International Headquarters, during the struggles of our local unions in the US and Canada and for disadvantaged workers throughout the world, STAND UP!! FIGHT BACK!!!