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Spring Brunch 2016

The F Word: Feminism and Leadership Now

Michele Elam

By Robin Murphy

The Cap and Gown Spring Brunch at the Stanford Faculty Club has become a tradition in the past few years and this year’s lovely gathering on April 23, 2016, continued this festive event. Actives, alumnae, and guests renewed old friendships and sparked new ones while enjoying the delightful menu from scrambled eggs and sausage to red velvet cupcakes.

This year, the keynote speaker, Professor Michele Elam, was invited and introduced by Cap and Gown Actives Board Finance VP Sarah Sadlier. The moment was extra special as Professor Elam’s daughter, Claire Patterson, who is a Cap and Gown Active, was in attendance at the brunch.

The topic of Professor Elam’s remarks, “The ‘F’ Word,” may have been startling, but it stood for feminism, a word that some still may back away from these days. Professor Elam, though, shared her personal journey to studying race and ethnicity, interpreting feminism, and remembering the women in her life who have shaped her understanding of what it means to be female and a leader.
Professor Elam is the Olivier Nomellini Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, Professor of English, and currently Director of Stanford University’s interdisciplinary graduate program, Modern Thought and Literature (MTL). She is an affiliate with the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Studies, African & African American Studies, and Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. Professor Elam is also the author of Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2003), The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium (Stanford University Press, 2011), and is Editor of the Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Recognized for her natural teaching ability, Professor Elam is twice the recipient of the St Clair Drake Outstanding Teaching Award at Stanford (2004, 2006) and the Faculty Award for “Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Students as a Teacher, Advisor and Mentor” from the Program in Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity (2013).

Professor Elam inspired attendees with her observations that being at the table matters in conversations around curriculum decisions and other policy decisions. She said that groups must align together and value each other. Leading organizations need to lead in including diverse voices in crucial conversations. Professor Elam also shared her thoughts that mentoring is profoundly rewarding for women, but is too often seen as a side activity. It needs to be valued for the progress of mentors too.

The Actives Board bestowed honorary membership to Cap and Gown on Professor Elam, re-enacting the traditional tapping by members clad in caps and gowns. Professor Elam joins a great group of women who have been honored for their commitment to supporting undergraduate women on their journeys to personal development and leadership. It has long been important to Cap and Gown to include honoraries in their membership.

A huge thank you goes to Shari Kuchenbecker, who led the brunch planning, and to Angela Evans, who coordinated with the Faculty Club. More thanks to Caroline Frost, who led the event for the Actives; to Michelle Galloway, who led the tapping of Professor Elam; to Ellen Petrill, Ellen Slack, Kathy Chou, Carol Benz, and Michelle Galloway for greeting attendees; and to Marisa Messina who helped with Cap and Gown merchandise. Thanks to Ruth Cronkite for hosting Professor Elam, to Kathryn Kilner for her welcome remarks, and to Kathy Chou for moderating the Q&A session. Thanks to Caitlin Callaghan for executing promotions, to Samantha Quist for spearheading the phone call campaign, and to Caroline Frost for promoting the brunch to the actives. Special thanks to Shari Kuchenbecker for her photos during the event and for the traditional group photo on the patio afterward. Thanks to Melissa Luu-Van for also taking pictures and helping with the sound.

The spring leadership event has varied over the years from a gathering in member Mrs. Rosamond Clarke Bacon’s garden on campus to a panel of Actives taking place in Vidalakis Dining Room in Schwab Residence. It has long been an opportunity for Actives and Alumnae to form a community to share Stanford experiences, inspire ambitions, and deepen friendships. We look forward to continuing this tradition for many years to come.

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