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Oct. 3, 2006

Smith College: Bucking the Career vs. Family Stereotype


“The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life.” – Smith alumna Anne Morrow Lindbergh in “Gift from the Sea.”

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – As ever more choices become available to women, the time to think through decisions surrounding work, family, service and leisure is increasingly pinched. Amid this paradox of less time for more commitments, Smith College is asking students to examine their definitions of success.

On Oct. 23, Smith will launch the Women’s Narratives of Success Project, a series of dialogues to assist students in developing a lifelong habit of reflecting on their values, aspirations and goals. Author Mary Catherine Bateson, singer Liz Phair, journalist Betsy Stark and author Rebecca Walker will share their own stories during the inaugural panel discussion at 4:15 p.m. in the Alumnae House Conference Room.

In January, interested students will also participate in “Get a Life,” a workshop designed to invite reflection about their ambitions and expectations. The workshop will strive to reach beyond headlines that point to a false "choice" between career and family.

“A cacophony of external voices sets expectations for women’s success,” said Maureen Mahoney, dean of the college and project director. “We want to
educate women about listening to themselves.”

Funded by the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation -- a family foundation directed by Smith alumna Nan-b de Gaspé Beaubien and her husband, Philippe -- the project is expected to expand to involve alumnae participants in the future.

Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life and co-director of the project, will moderate the Oct. 23 panel discussion involving the following participants:

Mary Catherine Bateson

“When we speak to our children about our own lives, we tend to reshape our pasts to give them an illusory sense of purpose,” Mary Catherine Bateson writes in "Composing a Life," which depicts the lives of five successful women and proposes conceptualizing life as a creative process.  An anthropologist, writer and teacher, Bateson is president of the Institute for Intercultural Studies in New York City and recently completed three years as visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The linguist and writer Deborah Tannen has called Bateson “one of the most original and important thinkers of our time.”

Liz Phair

Liz Phair’s first album, "Exile in Guyville," evoked a sense of alienation from the male-dominated music world, but her frank songs with a feminist slant made the 1993 album popular. Since then, Phair’s albums read like a rock narrative of her life, with recent songs about romantic quests, aging and single motherhood. “My music has always been for me…diary-esque,” she told NPR’s “All Things Considered” in 2005. “In a way it’s the way that I keep track of where I’ve been.” Phair took time off from her singing career to have a child and now combines both roles. She is a graduate of Oberlin College.

Betsy Stark, Smith College Class of 1978

As the business correspondent for ABC News, Betsy Stark is a visible and successful woman in the once male-dominated field of financial journalism. She has won several awards for her coverage of business and the economy, including an Emmy last year -- her third -- for her reporting on deteriorating pension benefits in the United States.  Stark has also raised two children, and the challenges of combining a high-powered career and a family have been a defining theme in her life. That theme has also become a new focus of her work at ABC News, where she recently added the work/life beat to the portfolio of issues she already follows. She has maintained strong ties to the college as a Smith alumna, returning often to speak and visit.

Rebecca Walker

In her first memoir, "Black, White and Jewish," Rebecca Walker asks “What do we become when we put down the scripts written by history and memory?” Narratives – her own and others’ – are essential to Walker’s work. Her latest memoir, "Baby Love," will be on store shelves in 2007. Named by Time magazine one of the 50 most influential future leaders of America, Walker has edited such anthologies as "To Be Real: Telling the Truth" and "Changing the Face of Feminism." Walker is a graduate of Yale University.

To hear Mahoney talk about the program, go online to an audio transcript of her address at Alumnae College Reunion in May 2006.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,600 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.


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

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
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