This year marks the 50th anniversary of women at Fairfield University as undergraduate students. Throughout the year, Fairfield University will be hosting a wide range of events to celebrate this momentous occasion. On Sept. 9, the first virtual webinar event “Women at Fairfield – Trailblazers Igniting the Future” was hosted by the University’s second female provost, Christine Siegel Ph.D. On this webinar, three female panelists were invited to speak about their experiences as women at Fairfield both as students and as members of the Fairfield community in various roles. The panelists included Rosellen Walsh Schnurr, a member of the first group of women to graduate from Fairfield in 1974 and a trustee for the University, current and first female Vice President of Student Affairs, Karen Donoghue from Fairfield’s class of 2003 and Claretta Mills from the class of 2016.
President Marc Nemec provided some introductory remarks to the webinar where he mentioned that women were allowed at Fairfield as graduate students prior to 1970, but this celebration was in relation to women being accepted into Fairfield University at the undergraduate level. He spoke about how excited the community was to celebrate this anniversary this year and that he looks forward to future events being held throughout the year.
Following these introductory remarks, each panelist was given time to share their experiences as women at Fairfield and how those experiences have impacted them and allowed them to be trailblazers for Fairfield women and all women of the future.
Rosellen Walsh Schnurr began with her story of being among the first group of women undergraduate students to be welcomed onto Fairfield’s campus in 1970. She mentioned that there were only about 100 women on campus when she started. This is a remarkable concept when you consider that there are now more female students than male students at Fairfield, as Christine Siegel mentioned later in the webinar. Schnurr has many ties to the Fairfield community because both her brother and her sister attended the University after her, and she even met her husband here during their senior year while on a university ski trip. You could say that she and her husband are also among the first “Stag Mates” at Fairfield. She spoke about many different aspects of her experience as a female student at Fairfield, such as how she only had one female professor during her time here who taught English and how the female students all created a very tight bond with each other. During the Q & A session of the webinar, Schnurr spoke again of the importance of the bond that was created among the female students. They held each other accountable and nurtured each other. She touched upon the concept of mediocrity, which was not acceptable as a student at Fairfield. She always pushed herself to work her hardest which was easy to do with how supported she was during her time as a student.
The next panelist to share was Fairfield University’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Karen Donoghue. Donoghue focused on her experience as the first female president of the Fairfield University Student Association and what it was like to break that glass ceiling. Donoghue ran for FUSA president in 2002 due to a “gut feeling” that it was something that she needed to do. The race was close, with her running against three men, and she recalled only winning by 11 votes. Donoghue reflected on how running for and being FUSA president shaped her into who she is today. The female friendships she made while president, rooted in love, compassion and loyalty, were particularly impactful on her development. The position also gave her the confidence that she needed to push back against the challenges that women still face, even to this day. The last point she mentioned was how being FUSA president helped her find her voice, recognize who she was and use this discovery to seek the change that she wanted to see in the Fairfield community. Donoghue finished by saying how essential women in the classroom are, as they allow for diverse perspectives to be shared and for the dialogue to move forward.
The final panelist was Claretta Mills who graduated from Fairfield in 2016. Mills was a politics major with a wide variety of minors including women, gender, and sexuality studies and environmental studies. As a female student of color at Fairfield, she was involved in activism and racial justice opportunities on campus. She received her masters degree in Latin American studies from NYU, and she now works for a nonprofit in New York City. From her experience as a woman on Fairfield’s campus, Mills learned the importance of women encouraging each other to not feel ostracized when they may be the only woman in a room, but instead to have courage and understand that you do belong there and you deserve to be there as well. During the Q & A session, Mills gave advice to the future women of Fairfield by telling them to find their place on campus and to associate themselves with like-minded people and groups where you know that you belong.
This webinar was a great kick-off for the many other events that will be taking place throughout the year as the celebration of the 50th anniversary of women at Fairfield continues. Below is a schedule of the upcoming events that you can attend to help Fairfield University celebrate this amazing milestone.
September 10 – Fairfield Museum Ruby Sky Stiler Opening
October 2 – Peggy Noonan at the Quick Center
October 6 – Ana Navarro and Joy Reid together at the Quick Center
October 7 – Catholic Studies: O’Callahan Lecture with Sr. Colleen Gibson ‘09
October 8 – Harriet Senie at the Quick Center
October 14 – Judaic Studies: 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment
October 20 – Alumnae Author Panel
October 25 – BBC Arts Correspondent, Jacky Klein (expert on Peggy Guggenheim)