Dartmouth invites alumni back to campus to celebrate 50th anniversary of coeducation weekend

Weekend events included panels elevating alumnae voices, the rededication of Dartmouth Hall and opening of exhibits honoring the experiences — both positive and negative — of women at the College.

by Cassandra Montemayor Thomas | 11/15/22 5:20am

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This past weekend, the College celebrated 50 years of coeducation with an invitation for all alumnae to return to campus and engage with programming that included the rededication of Dartmouth Hall, eight panel discussions on Saturday and a conversation with College President-elect Sian Leah Beilock, who will become the first woman to lead the College. 

According to Jennifer Avellino ’89, planning for the weekend had been in the works since 2021, which was the 50th anniversary of the trustee decision to launch coeducation at the College. Avellino, a former president of the Dartmouth Alumni Council who led volunteer efforts leading up to the weekend, said that the event planners envisioned the 50th anniversary of coeducation as a year-long commemoration culminating in an on-campus event in which five decades of alumnae would be invited and celebrated.

While special attention was given to the first classes of women beginning with the Class of 1976 — which included the first 177 women to matriculate into a coeducational College — Avellino said that the planners sought to elevate each generation of alumnae.

“This coeducation celebration weekend had to be about those five decades of women,” Avellino said. “We are really focusing on their accomplishments and their efforts over the past 50 years.”

Scheduled events began on Friday afternoon with a coeducation exhibition and reception in Reiss Hall, a pop-up exhibition of work by women artists at the Hood Museum and the rededication of Dartmouth Hall, according to alumni relations vice president Cheryl Bascomb ’82.

Bascomb explained that each time a College building undergoes a major renovation, the building is rededicated to the College and a trustee officially accepts the building on behalf of the College. In this instance, because Dartmouth women contributed a significant portion of the funds necessary for the renovations, trustee Elizabeth Cogan Fascitelli ’80 accepted the building on behalf of the College. 

In his remarks to commemorate the rededication, College President Phil Hanlon ’77 lauded the “unstoppable committee of a dozen daughters of Dartmouth” who led the fundraising efforts.

“More than 3,000 supporters — 2,712 of them Dartmouth alumnae — generously contributed over $26 million to realize this project,” Hanlon said.

Prior to the rededication, alumni filed into Reiss Hall to examine the coeducation exhibit on public display. The pieces, curated by College archivists Peter Carini and Julia Logan, did not shy away from the College’s checkered past of sexism and consequent abuses against women at the College. 

Susan Dentzer ’77 — a member of the second coeducational class of the College — said that some of her female classmates were “marred” by this anti-coeducation sentiment, although it wasn’t her class’s “dominant takeaway from Dartmouth.”

For Bascomb, the College’s decision not to sweep this history under the rug is a personal point of pride.

“If we were to sugarcoat the experience of women here, we wouldn’t be able to bring everybody into the room, to bring the voices back who had very different experiences,” Bascomb said. “We want to acknowledge and recognize [their voices] and have those women as part of the fabric of our alumni network.”

While Dentzer noted that the College is a very different place now than when she was an undergraduate, it is still the same in some positive aspects.

“I still think students come to Dartmouth for the rich liberal arts education,” Dentzer said. “The close student-faculty relationships that are possible, as well as the ability to — as we’ve said in the various Dartmouth fundraising campaigns — have Dartmouth serve as the base camp to the world.”

The diverse career trajectories that alumnae have taken were on display in the eight-part panel series on Saturday. One of these panels, titled “Antisocial Media: Fighting Disinformation in the Digital World,” was moderated by Anne Bagamery ’78, a legal journalist and the first woman editor in chief of The Dartmouth. Bagamery, who has spent her career in journalism in America and Europe, said that the welcoming and inclusive alumni network has been a distinctive feature of her postgraduate life.

“Wherever you land in the world, if you just turn up in a town and find the local Dartmouth club — whether you call someone or it’s the friend of a friend who has a friend — there’s a Dartmouth connection there,” Bagamery said. “We’ll take the phone call, we’ll have a cup of coffee, we’ll do whatever we can to help.”

Rachel Dratch ’88, an actress who has performed on Saturday Night Live, also returned to campus to participate in a panel discussion titled “Star Power from Broadway to Hollywood: Behind the Scenes with Award-Winning Alumnae.” In a separate event, she spoke with theater students and the Dog Day and Casual Thursday improv group members.

Dratch said that she enjoys coming back to campus in part because her current enthusiasm represents a shift from her undergraduate mindset. Dratch said that she faced challenges finding a sense of community on campus and getting a foothold in campus theater during her time as an undergraduate.

“It took a while to find my people here,” Dratch said. “It definitely took me a while to get [casted] in a play here. I [came into Dartmouth thinking] ‘I’m good at this’ — but then it was like, ‘No,’ — just like the real acting world.”

Since her graduation, Dratch said she has found a strong community of Dartmouth graduates in New York, where she launched her career in comedy and acting. She added that she has made an effort to respond to as many current students who reach out with career questions as possible. 

Dratch’s continuing interactions with current students echoed what Bascomb called her greatest point of pride in the weekend: the strength of the alumnae network.

“I think we are more than just a group of women who are connected by virtue of having gone to the same college,” Bascomb said. “We are really bonded in common experience and the way we have experienced these four years, whether it was in 1978 or 2022.”

Anne Bagamery is a former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth.

Correction appended (Nov. 15, 11:15 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Beth Cogan Fascitelli ’80 accepted the rededication of Dartmouth Hall on behalf of College alumnae. Fascitelli accepted the rededication on behalf of the College. The article has been updated.

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