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News Release

May 10, 2004

Smith, Mount Holyoke to Host June Conference on
Unfinished Agenda of Women's Education Worldwide

Kevin McCaffrey, Mt. Holyoke, (413) 538-2987,
Laurie Fenlason, Smith College, (413) 585-2190,

SOUTH HADLEY AND NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, two of the most influential liberal arts institutions for women in the United States, will host a meeting of presidents and academic deans of leading colleges and universities from around the world in order to discuss international issues and challenges in women's education, as well as issues surrounding women's study of science.

The three-day gathering, "Women's Education Worldwide 2004: The Unfinished Agenda," will run from Wednesday, June 2, to Friday, June 4, and will likely be the first in an ongoing series of regular conferences by leaders of international women's colleges and institutions with historical ties to women's education. This year's program will be divided between the Mount Holyoke and Smith campuses.

The conference will bring together heads of leading institutions from North America with their counterparts from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australia, representing nearly 30 schools. (Please see a list of participating institutions below.) Both Smith and Mount Holyoke have longstanding ties to the international educational community.

Two keynote speakers will address attendees and interested members of the public. At 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 2, Amartya Sen will speak at Hooker Auditorium on the Mount Holyoke campus. A Nobel Prize-winning economist whose work has a profound humanitarian dimension that recognizes that the betterment of society is the ultimate duty of scholarship, Sen has a strong interest in women's education and has written on the economic effects of educating women. Sen is master of Trinity College, Cambridge, U.K., and Lamont University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. He has served as president of the Econometric Society, the Indian Econometric Association, the American Economic Association and the International Economic Association.

Sheila E. Widnall will be the second keynote speaker who will discuss "Women: Preparing for Global Leadership" at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 3, at Seelye 106 on the Smith campus. Widnall is the Institute Professor and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She has more than 30 years of teaching and administrative experience at MIT and has also served as secretary of the U.S. Air Force. She is internationally known for her work in fluid dynamics and is the past recipient of the Living Legacy Award from the Women's International Center. Both keynote speeches are free, open to the public and fully accessible.

In preparation for the conference, Smith President Carol T. Christ and Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton have asked their counterparts from around the world to bring forward challenges confronting women's education internationally:

"What does your educational institution aspire to do in educating women, and what is it able to do?" Presidents Christ and Creighton wrote participants. "For example, in the United States, women are proportionally underrepresented in the advanced study of many sciences, particularly physical sciences and engineering. Women's liberal arts colleges have often done better than their coeducational counterparts in propelling graduates into these fields, yet clearly there is room for systemic improvement. How can we advance this agenda? More broadly, in what productive ways could we individually and jointly promote what we are calling 'the great unfinished agenda': the education and advancement of women in the world across ethnic, racial, age and socioeconomic groups? How do we tackle an even more pressing issue and a much larger agenda, that of social justice for women worldwide?"

The conference is anticipated to be a first step in building new avenues of collaboration among participating institutions in addressing educational issues facing women internationally.

For example, scholars and humanitarian organizations point toward a serious and growing disparity among women in developed and developing nations, particularly with regard to literacy. As University of Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum noted recently in the Winter 2004 issue of Liberal Education, "In about one-third of the world's nations, fewer than 50 percent of women can even read and write. Public universities do far too little to recruit women from deprived rural backgrounds and to give them the remedial training they often need."

And, Sen has frequently written and spoken about the lasting consequences of educational disparity on both women and men. "Why is it so important to close the educational gaps and to remove the enormous disparities in educational access, inclusion and achievement?" Sen asked in a speech to the Commonwealth Education Conference in Edinburgh last year. "One reason, among others, is the importance of this for making the world more secure as well as more fair. H.G. Wells was not exaggerating when he said, in his "Outline of History": 'Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.' If we continue to leave vast sections of the people of the world outside the orbit of education, we make the world not only less just, but also less secure."

As members of the historic Seven Sisters, the premier American liberal arts colleges for women, Mount Holyoke and Smith are well suited to facilitate discussion on these key issues. Since the 19th century, Smith and Mount Holyoke, friendly rivals facing each other across the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, have exerted great influence on women's advancement in education, politics and society. Both have well-established study abroad programs and significant numbers of international students. With a student body that is 16 percent international and includes students from more than 75 countries, Mount Holyoke leads top-ranked liberal arts institutions in the nation in terms of percentage of international students. Smith's student body is 7 percent international and includes students from more than 60 countries. Smith was among the first American colleges and universities to establish a commitment to study abroad. More than half of Smith students study abroad during their undergraduate careers, most for a full year.

About the sponsors:

Founded in 1837 by Mary Lyon, Mount Holyoke College is one of the nation's finest liberal arts colleges. Rigorous academics and an internationally diverse student body create an environment that prepares women to become leaders in an increasingly complex world. The country's oldest institution of higher education for women, Mount Holyoke has had a formative role in the founding of scores of schools and colleges across the U.S. and throughout the world. Today it enrolls approximately 2,100 students from all 50 United States and more than 80 countries. Emphasizing the importance of science education throughout its history, the college has recently completed a unified science center and an expansion of its music, art and student center facilities. It is located in South Hadley, Mass.

Smith College is located in Northampton, Mass., approximately two hours west of Boston and 10 miles northwest of Mount Holyoke College. Founded in 1871 by Sophia Smith of Hatfield, Mass., it is today the largest liberal arts college for women in the United States, with more than 2,800 students from throughout the United States and 60 countries around the world. Building on its longstanding tradition of academic excellence, the college in recent years has added an engineering program and a program in landscape studies, as well as completed an extensive renovation and expansion of its renowned Museum of Art.

Schools represented at the June conference, by continent:

Kiriri Women's University of Science and Technology, Kenya
Ahfad University, Sudan

Kobe Women's College, Japan
Ochanomizu University, Japan
Tokyo Women's College, Japan
Ewha Women's University, Korea
Sookmyung Women's University, Korea

Women's College, University of Queensland
Women's College, University of Sydney

EPF École d'Ingenieurs, France
University of Bremen, Germany
Collegio Nuovo, Italy
Lucy Cavendish College, U.K.
New Hall College, U.K.

Middle East
Dubai College, Dubai
Effat College, Saudi Arabia

North America
Agnes Scott College, USA
Barnard College, USA
Bay Path College, USA
Bennett College, USA
Bryn Mawr College, USA
Mills College, USA
Mount Holyoke College, USA
Scripps College, USA
Smith College, USA
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, USA
Spelman College, USA
Wellesley College, USA


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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