The Suzy Newhouse Center for the Humanities, in collaboration with the French Consulate in Boston and Sciences Po, Paris, hosted a symposium from Oct. 20 to Oct. 21 on education and gender equality that featured speakers such as counterculture-activist Angela Davis. The symposium included a variety of talks and presentations by various scholars, many of which included question and answer sessions with students.
Consul General of the French Consulate in Boston, Valéry Freland, said he worked closely with Wellesley’s Newhouse Center for Humanities Director Anjali Prabhu to create the symposium because of his belief in the importance of encouraging discourse about gender equality.
“Two years ago, when I arrived in Boston, I gave a lecture on what it means to be a consulate-general. … One girl stood up and said, ‘Why do you only give the floor to men?’ I was really shocked because I didn’t realize that I only gave the floor to men. But I wanted to be fully involved in gender equality after that. I began looking for an academic partner, and I met Anjali Prabhu who said she would do the project with me,” Freland explained.
Consequently, Freland began organizing the symposium with Prabhu and the Wellesley administration. The consulate’s Communications Director Judith Guillou stated that the consulate was able to gather speakers and mediators through scholars that Prabhu and Freland had prior connections with.
For instance, in 2010 Freland assumed the role of Director of the French Institute in Tunis, Tunisia. Drawing from this experience, he sought Court of Cassation Lawyer Bochra Belhaj Hmida to speak about her work.
Bordeaux Métropole project manager and researcher Edith Maruejouls spoke about her general research on the relationship between people of different genders during school recess. She was brought into the project after Wellesley College President Paula Johnson personally asked her to attend.
“I research how to create or raise awareness between boys and girls so that they share the same values and become more involved with one another in the way that they behave,” Maruejouls said. “By speaking here, I hope to be more clever by being all together. Being part of the community and having this discussion helps you become smarter.”
One of the most well-known speakers was political activist, professor and author Angela Davis, who spoke in Alumnae Hall on Oct. 21. Davis has written multiple books about race, class and gender in America, including “Women, Culture and Politics,” “Women, Race and Class” and “Are Prisons Obsolete?” President Johnson introduced Ms. Davis, and at the mention of her name the crowd burst into raucous applause, leading President Johnson to exclaim, “Imagine when she actually comes out on stage!”
When Ms. Davis did walk onto the stage, she immediately received a standing ovation from the entire crowd, and the clapping and cheering did not cease until she motioned for the crowd to be seated. She spoke for about 30 minutes on a variety of topics, including the American prison system and the struggles that minority groups face in America. Afterwards, Ms. Prabhu came on stage and had a brief conversation with Ms. Davis about her works and her opinions on various issues. Finally, Ms. Davis accepted a few questions from the audience, including one from President Johnson.
Guillou explained that the ultimate goal of the conference is to create solutions to deal with the issues of gender equality and education and to draft a proposal to send to the United Nations.
“As the world’s leading liberal arts college for women, we are proud to have hosted this weekend’s symposium on a topic of such global importance,” President Johnson said. “The issues and questions at the heart of the symposium are connected to our commitment to advancing women’s education and equality and to preparing women to achieve in the 21st century. I am optimistic that such a diversity of perspectives will lead to meaningful progress across multiple arenas.”