Women from the Class of 1965 Reflect on Their 50-Year Journey

Alumni Weekend panel shares thoughts about gains made during the past half-century

08 June, 2015 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Remember that iconic Virginia Slims television commercial from the late 1960s — the one that linked women's liberation to a new cigarette with a catchy refrain ("You've Come a Long Way, Baby")?

Well, many women from that era recall a much different set of circumstances, including a group from The College of Wooster's Class of 1965, several of whom participated in a panel discussion during Alumni Weekend about the progress of the women's movement over the past 50 years.

Despite Wooster's notably progressive history, highlighted by the decision to provide educational opportunities for both men and women when it was founded in 1866, the College still had some embarrassing inequities in policy and protocol nearly a century later. In 1965, for example, first-year female students still had to be in their dorm by 8 p.m. and the lights had to be out by 11 p.m., while the men were free to cavort about campus all night long if they chose to do so.

Those types of inequities and the efforts to overcome them were recounted during a session titled "Reflections on the Journeys of Women since 1965," last Friday in Gault Recital Hall of Scheide Music Center.

The presentation was moderated by 1965 graduate Deborah Knorr Haavik, who conceived, created, and coordinated the panel. She was joined by three of her classmates: Jill Rasmussen Karatinos, Alex Keith, and Nancy Hunt Cylke, as well as Christa Craven, associate professor of women's, gender, and sexuality studies, and anthropology at Wooster (whose remarks were recorded in a video presentation because she was conducting research off campus), and Bill Longbrake, chair of Wooster's Board of Trustees and also a member of the Class of 1965.

Knorr Haavik, who was first exposed to the Civil Rights movement in Clayton Ellsworth's "American Social History Course," said, "I'm not sure I was aware of the women's movement while at Wooster, but eventually I became involved." She played intercollegiate field hockey at Wooster and was often teased for being an athlete. After graduation, she went on to earn her master's degree in elementary education at the University of Rochester and spent more than 27 years in the classroom,.

Karatinos, a solo practitioner of general adult psychiatry, reflected on the impact of Title IX legislation, which helped increase the quota for admission of women to medical school from five percent to 10 percent, but also led to resentment on the part of their male counterparts who felt they were being squeezed out of the admissions process. This created considerable stress for Karatinos and female students from other medical schools who were often sexually harassed, but she managed to overcome the trauma and excel in the field. Among her many achievements was the founding of a women's medical society that enabled women doctors from a range of nationalities to meet, exchange ideas, refer each other patients, and speak with one voice in the larger medical community. She concluded with the announcement that she and her husband, Nick, whom she met at Wooster, would be endowing a scholarship in neuroscience at the College with a preference given to female students.

Keith, former senior counsel in the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, talked about how her class was on the cusp of the women's movement in what she referred to as the "Post Pill, Pre-AIDS Generation." She noted that while she did experience some forms of sexism at Wooster, she received a "terrific education," especially in history, thanks to emeritus faculty members Floyd Watts, Aileen Dunham, Dan Calhoun, and Jim Hodges, all of whom, she said, prepared her for a career in foreign service, including a fascinating experience in Saigon during the Vietnam War. She went on to enter law school at Georgetown University, where female enrollment had "grown" to 20 percent by 1972.

Cylke, who works with John Snow, Inc., an international public health consulting firm, said her world began to take shape in Floyd Watt's world history class, where she became inspired to become involved in developing countries. She earned a master's degree in international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and began a career at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, D.C., where she was assigned to the African Bureau. After she met and married a colleague, they moved to Ivory Coast, then Kenya, and Afghanistan. She was able to work on USAID projects when they lived in Egypt and India, which led her to conclude, "what a wonderful world Wooster introduced me to; you can use your Wooster education in many ways to move forward in your career."

Longbrake, in his remarks, noted the significance of Wooster's appointment of Georgia Nugent, who begins her one-year term as interim president next month. "I look forward to partnering with Wooster's first woman president," he said, a statement that drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.

After the presentations, those in attendance were asked to gather in small groups to reflect on Wooster's role in the women's movement during the past half-century. Each of the groups shared their thoughts, including a relative newcomer, Lindsey Thuell from the Class of 2005, who expressed gratitude to the trailblazers from 1965 and pledged her commitment to protect and preserve the gains that have been made by women during the past 50 years.