Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Women's Studies 101

Sandra Rattray-Hahn was kind enough to let me interview her about her experiences in college for my women's studies class. She was open and wonderful, lending me enormous insight into her experience, I apologize that it is a 101 report and not an extensive biography:

In the four years that Sandra went to Mount Holyoke college in Massachusetts, she experienced an inundation of ideologies and political energy. The small women’s college atmosphere of Mount Holyoke made it easy to become a vocal and involved participant in the many activities on campus.

Sandra, a naturalized citizen from Panama, grew up in inner-city New York. As a half-latino, half-black woman it was a struggle just making it to college. What the 95% of other women on campus experienced as a fairly simple transition from high school to college was a difficult accomplishment for the other 5% of women on campus. Sandra found the transition to be liberating. Once on campus, Sandra stuck her hand in every cookie jar, sampling the excitement and freedom of a decade as well as the college atmosphere. As treasurer of the SGA she worked hard to get African American speakers, and organized many events centered on the recurring themes of feminism, civil rights, and anti-war sentiment. Sandra’s curiosity in politics and current events was squeezed into an already jammed schedule: she worked three part-time jobs, was a biochemistry major, commuted to D.C. to see concerts and speakers, and was an active member in the SGA.

With this political awareness came the harsh reality of the times. Sandra lost many friends to the Vietnam War. The war refused to call itself racist or classist, but the truth is that Sandra’s friends were all inner-city blacks that could not afford to go to college or get deferments. Sandra found this a disheartening tragedy. In that same respect, it made things difficult when bridging the gap with white women. They did not share in the pain that was the Vietnam War in the same way. They were detached moral objectors whereas Sandra’s first-hand experience lent a powerful and deep connection to the senselessness of the war. This kind of disparity spilled over into other topics as well. When Sandra helped establish the African American Cultural Center, she found that many of her peers were confused and unable to comprehend the necessity of such a center. But it was put there anyway, a testament to her perseverance. Working on SGA was difficult too because the issues that were brought to the table, very often were issues that did not interest her.

College came and went, the 1970’s came and went, but Sandra remained herself and continues to fight on with the ideals and fervor that made her time at Mount Holyoke so enriching.