SESP Community Gathers to Discuss Election

SESP Community Gathers to Discuss Election

Healing spaceNorthwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) opened its Student Affairs lounge as a healing space Thursday, providing a lunchtime forum for students, faculty, and staff to discuss concerns or fears following the 2016 Presidential election.

“Now you know: You have your work cut out for you,” SESP Dean Penelope Peterson told the standing room-only crowd. “Do not give up hope. We have a lot of work to do.”

SESP’s longtime dean, who is retiring in August of 2017, reminded the students that they will face many hard times throughout their lives, and she reflected on her own struggle and journey as a woman in a mostly-male academic world.

Peterson pursued her PhD at Stanford University during a time when women were encouraged to have children rather than pursue higher degrees. Undaunted, Peterson did both, and in 1976 she became one of two female tenure-line assistant professors to be hired in an entirely white male Department of Educational Psychology.

Though unthinkable today, Peterson returned to work the day after she delivered each of her three children because there was no maternity leave. To receive tenure, she felt compelled to work twice as hard and be twice as good as the men in similar positions, she said.

When she arrived at Northwestern in 1997, Peterson was only the second female dean in school history.  The only other woman dean at Northwestern had been Hannah Gray, who served as the Dean of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences twenty-five years earlier.

“One of the hardest things in my career was when I felt alone,” Peterson said. “But you are not alone. We are here to support you.”

SESP senior Christina Cilento, president of Associated Student Government, said she appreciated the effort to bring the already tight-knit SESP community together to discuss the larger questions.

“What does this mean for someone who wants to go into social justice, public service and community work?” she asked. “Though we’re hurting and students are feeling unsafe in the nation and on campus, it’s good to have a space where we can come talk about this.”

The lunchtime gathering may be the first of regular community meetings, Peterson said.

“We are a school of education and social policy: We help other people learn, develop and grow,” Peterson said. “Now we need to take this opportunity to learn more about the other people who voted for the candidate we might not have voted for.  And grow.

 “We’re in this for the long haul,” she added. “Change is not easy, and we have to keep working for it. Now more than ever.”  

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/11/16