International human rights attorney Amal Clooney addressed a capacity crowd of Colgate University students, faculty, staff, and alumni in Memorial Chapel on Saturday evening, March 5. Her visit, sponsored by the Kerschner Family Series Global Leaders at Colgate, served as the keynote for a weekend-long celebration of women of inspiration and influence — the culmination of Colgate’s 50th Anniversary of Coeducation festivities.
In a discussion moderated by Interim Provost and Dean of Faculty Ellen Kraly and Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Susan Thomson, Clooney shared her personal journey from corporate law to the halls of the International Court of Justice in the Hague. She discussed the viability of applying international law and precedent to United States legal processes, recounted details of past cases, and even looked ahead to the impact climate change would have on future refugee crises.
Clooney’s belief in each individual’s ability to affect change — and the need for every generation to wage justice to help bend the arc of history — served as a throughline for her comments.
“I hope you will all go on to do things you are passionate about,” Clooney said, addressing undergraduates directly. “And I hope you all feel that you can make a tremendous difference because every one of you definitely can — and I have the distinct impression that you will.”
Honoring the past, present, and future
Earlier in the day, during Colgate’s Charter Day luncheon, the University added a new chapter to its origin story with the announcement of the Thirteen Women Initiative.
Colgate was founded in 1819 by 13 men with 13 dollars and 13 prayers. Mirroring that legacy, 13 women graduates of the University stepped forward with $1 million each to support Third-Century Plan priorities. Luncheon attendees later participated in a discussion about social entrepreneurship and community engagement with a panel of Colgate women who founded socially focused businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“Generations of women have enrolled, graduated, and gone on to become accomplished alumnae,” says Liz Buchbinder ’77, chair of the University’s Women’s Leadership Council, a co-sponsor of the anniversary celebration. “Women will need to lead the way into Colgate’s third century, and this weekend honors women of the past, present, and future.”
Additional events on Saturday included:
- breakout sessions focused on professional agency and social corporate responsibility;
- a reception, hosted by the Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, celebrating Colgate’s rise to the forefront of academic institutions earning nationally competitive fellowships since the beginning of coeducation in 1970;
- the annual Charter Day Global Day of Service, inviting alumni and student volunteers to make a difference by participating in local projects benefiting Hamilton and the surrounding areas.
Celebrating through storytelling
Saturday’s events were a sequel to engaging conversations and storytelling sessions that began on March 4.
Author Jesmyn Ward appeared in the chapel on Friday evening as a special guest in Colgate’s Living Writers series. The first woman and person of color to win the National Book Award for fiction twice, Ward answered questions from Colgate students and talked about the nuances of her work, her creative and writing processes, and her sources of inspiration. Ward also shared her desire to amplify the voices and stories of those who have been marginalized or had their histories erased, and the important role stories have in linking our past to our present.
“My grandmother was the first storyteller of my life,” Ward said. “Before I knew how to read, I would hear her telling stories at parties. I have her as a model in my head of how to tell a good story.”
Friday afternoon, alumnae joined students for several small group sessions that included a discussion with alumnae and students of color and conversations about women’s leadership and women in STEM and medical professions.
Members of the Colgate community also gathered to honor Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English Emerita Jane Pinchin for her leadership at the University, particularly during the early years of coeducation. President Brian W. Casey and Kraly offered opening remarks before Pinchin joined four faculty members in discussing their experiences as women at Colgate and their aspirations for the University’s future.
“This celebration honors a multitude of women and a movement that changed Colgate,” says Pinchin. “Women changed — and women on the faculty changed — not only the way people taught, but what they would teach.”