College hosts virtual roundtable to commemorate 50 years of coeducation

Laurel Richie ’81, Liz Lempres ’83 Th ’84 and moderator Susan Dentzer ’77 discussed their experiences as women at College and beyond.

by Kristin Chapman | 11/11/21 5:00am

Source: Courtesy of Yvonne Pelletier

On Nov. 9, the College held a virtual roundtable event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of former College President John Kemeny’s announcement on Nov. 21, 1971 that the Board of Trustees had voted to allow admission of women starting in 1972. 2022, in fact, will mark three different 50-year milestones: the decision to admit female students, the founding of the Native American Studies program and the establishment of the Black Alumni at Dartmouth Association.

The roundtable featured three alumnae who have chaired the Board of Trustees — Laurel Richie ’81, Liz Lempres ’83 Th’84 and moderator Susan Dentzer ’77 — with opening and closing remarks from vice president of alumni relations Cheryl Bascomb ’82. 

The three alumnae sport impressive careers. Richie, a marketing professional and former president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, served as chair from 2017 to 2021. Lempres is a senior partner emeritus at the consulting firm McKinsey and Company and current Dartmouth Board of Trustees chair, and Dentzer is a senior policy fellow for the Robert J. Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University. 

During the panel discussion, the speakers reflected on how their identities affected their experiences as students, what it means to be part of an “ever-becoming” institution — one that is constantly evolving — and the future of diversity, equity and inclusion at the College. 

“We decided, what better way to do it than to showcase the three women who have been such pioneers in alumni leadership at Dartmouth,” anniversary chair Jennifer Avellino ’89 said. 

When Dentzer arrived on campus in the fall of 1973, she said that although the vast majority of the Dartmouth community was supportive of coeducation, “women were not always treated as people.” However, Dentzer added that she recalls a moment when Kemeny addressed the students as the “women and men of Dartmouth” — making a point to say “women” first — and the student body collectively cheered. 

Richie said that by the time she arrived at Dartmouth in 1977, she did not notice “big issue[s]” surrounding gender, adding that she experienced more discrimination because of her race. 

“I experienced more overt and subtle discrimination as an African American than I experienced discrimination and inappropriate behavior as a woman,” she said. 

In 2017, Richie became the second woman, following Dentzer, and the first African American to be elected chair of the Board of Trustees. Earlier this year, Richie passed the role to Lempres. 

Lempres said diversity, inclusion, housing and mental health “are certainly at the forefront of our thinking” after a year marked by significant changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that the board is working to “be better communicators to students and particularly parents,” and “to increase student involvement in making decisions.” 

Richie said that the notion of “ever-becoming” feels important to her as Dartmouth heads into this new chapter with Lempres as the new chair.  

“The most important thing to me is that we continue to ask questions, that we continue to raise our aspirations, that we always believe there is more to do –– that we listen to our students and we listen to our faculty,” Richie said. “That is where our innovations come from.”

Missy Attridge ’77 attended the virtual roundtable and noted the speakers’ accomplishments. 

“I’m so impressed by the three female board chairs and all they’ve done to make each decade better than the one before,” she wrote in a statement to The Dartmouth following the event. 

Courtesy of Yvonne Pelletier

In an interview with The Dartmouth after the roundtable, Dentzer, Richie and Lempres spoke about trailblazing, lessons learned and the future of the College. 

Dentzer said she remembers being a woman on Dartmouth’s campus during the late 1970s and how many times she “felt like a pioneer.” When Dentzer was the first woman elected chair of the board in 2001, she became a “pioneer” again, particularly in her efforts to advocate for other women and minorities at Dartmouth. 

“[Being a woman board chair] meant a lot to people, and the symbolism of me being able to go out and talk to women students, women faculty members and other groups on campus –– I think I was literally the first Dartmouth board chair to go meet with the LGBTQ alumni association at the College, because that was the right thing to do, just as it was the right thing to do to go meet with Black alumni at Dartmouth,” she said. 

As the first female president of the WNBA, Richie said she learned how to be confident in herself. According to Richie, when she met her team, she was brought into a conference room with two open seats at the table –– one at the side and one at the head — and she opted to sit on the side.

“I was with Adam Silver, who’s now the commissioner of the NBA, and he said to me, ‘Oh no, you’re the president. You sit at the head of the table,’ and I’ve held on to that,” she said. “I think being really intentional about how you want to contribute, where you want to sit, what initiatives you want to drive, can go a long way.” 

Lempres said that one of her goals for her time as chair is to improve student life and mental health at Dartmouth through technology. She encouraged students to become involved in administrative decision-making. 

“It’s very difficult to talk about the student experience when you graduated from Dartmouth decades ago, and I think it’s really hard to talk about the student experience when you graduated from Dartmouth five years ago,” Lempres said. “We really need to hear from our students in terms of where they see the opportunities, and what they think priorities should be.”