William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe delivered a powerful and personal talk about the challenges and opportunities for women’s leadership on Tuesday evening as the first invited speaker in the School of Education’s 2018-2019 Diversity Lecture Series.
Rowe spoke about the value and necessity of inclusivity for institutions of higher education, as well as the need for innovation and collaboration to help them thrive in the future. She described challenges both large and small for women in the workforce, including some largely invisible on a daily basis to those not experiencing them.
“Women’s leadership still feels new, despite celebrating 100 years of women at William & Mary and more than 325 years since the institution’s founding by a woman and her partner,” said Rowe. “It still feels new because we’re still inventing it. So, we must step back, listen and evaluate.”
Rowe charged listeners and the entire William & Mary community to “think what we are doing,” an imperative coined by Hannah Arendt, the 20th century philosopher and political theorist.
For Rowe, thinking begins with listening, a theme she has stressed in the early months of her tenure. Throughout the coming year, Rowe is engaged in Thinking Forward, a campaign of strategic listening and reflection, inviting the William & Mary community to explore three key themes with her: the future of knowledge, the future of work and the future of service.
In relation to women’s leadership, Rowe emphasized the importance of “making visible what is invisible” by recognizing the often undervalued contributions of women and minorities in the workplace.
“It is a critical responsibility of leadership to expand the ‘we’ as we think about the future of education,” she said. “Diversity in our partnerships will result in innovations that align strategically with our mission.”
Rowe noted several partnerships underway at the School of Education, including the school’s work with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to train their next generation of school leaders; Troops to Teachers, a partnership with the Department of Defense that helps military veterans transition to careers as K-12 teachers; and the New Horizons Family Counseling Center, which works with local school divisions to provide family counseling services to families who would not otherwise be able to access or afford it.
She challenged faculty, staff and students to continue to pursue innovative partnerships with organizations and businesses who can both benefit from and contribute to the university’s work producing lifelong learners.
Rowe pointed to the critical responsibility of leadership to embrace the multiplicity that each individual in an organization brings to their work and daily life. She encouraged each person to ask the question, “How can I use the fullness of my life to inform my work?”
Rowe shared what she described as the best moment of her life as a teacher, telling a story about a young woman that she once coached in Ultimate Frisbee. The young woman suffered a slight injury and was ready to quit. She didn’t see herself as an athlete until her coach told her that she was — a revelation that changed the way she thought about herself.
“That player needed the invitation to think of herself in a different way and the license to rethink her identity,” said Rowe. “We need to be telling people, ‘You belong here, doing this work.’”
Rowe finished the talk with a “homework task” for the audience. “We must make our invitation to come study and work together explicit,” she said. “Only by doing that will we embrace fully the diversity of experiences of people on this campus.”
The School of Education’s 2018-2019 Diversity Lecture Series continues on Nov. 1 with the Hauben Distinguished Lecture, which will bring Deborah Loewenberg Ball, professor and former dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, to campus. Ball will present “(How) Can Teaching Disrupt Racism and Oppression?” Learn more and RSVP.