Kicking off St Andrews’s 2017 Sesquicentenary Celebrations with a bang, on Monday night saw the celebration of a proud and exciting milestone for College: 15 years of co-residential living. While the presence of females may now seem to be an aspect of Drew’s that doesn’t involve a second thought, the active change that was the admission of the first women back in 2002 held a great deal of significance for the College. The final decision was reached in 2001, and in 2002 the first fifty women residents set foot in St Andrew’s. On Monday we were privileged to hear from four outstanding speakers who stood at the forefront of this transition, each of whom enlightened the crowd with a bit of Drew’s history and the part he or she played in female leadership at college.
The first of the speakers was Andrew Murray, the chairman of the Andrew’s council from 1999 to 2002: the time at which the decision to go co-res was made. He noted that in our day it seems silly that this was such a significant and hotly debated topic, and that now having mixed genders should be a no-brainer. However Andrew assured us of the fierce deliberation that took place in this judgment, and that the passion behind this choice is not something we should take for granted. Andrew reminded us that the college was prospering back in 2001 and the decision was made to ensure the college remained progressive in a rapidly changing society. He told us of the exact council meeting where a conclusion was reached, held in the Junior Common Room at ten o’ clock on a Sunday morning with one hundred and fifty attendees. You could almost feel the tension and anticipation in that room the way he described it. Needless to say we are still thankful today for the resulting vote! Andrew finished his speech on the note of the College’s progress since this day: he noted that gender isn’t an issue anymore; that what we do, we do as a unified and holistic college.
The next speaker was Sasha Kovic, who has been a momentous contributor to the role of women at St Andrew’s. Sasha attended Drew’s from 2005-2008 when the presence of women was still a novelty, she was the first woman sub-dean, and finally the first resident woman to be elected to the Andrew’s council. Sasha recounted on her many pleasant memories at Drew’s, reminding us again how deeply-embedded the many Andrews traditions are. From everything to the fResher brick-and-gown ceremony to the ritual serving of banana bread in the dining hall on Wednesdays, Sasha spoke of many experiences nearly identical to those enjoyed by both men and women at Drew’s today. However she reminded us that women could not boast this pleasure had it not been for the ‘gutsy call’ made back in 2001 to keep the college liberal and open-minded. Sasha noted that as girls were still a relatively new phenomena during her time at Drew’s, they had to work hard to measure up to expectations put on them by their male counterparts. For example Sasha exclaimed how in its early stages Rosebowl sport sadly attracted very little numbers, however as the girls started winning the competition grew very popular – especially as the boys started to lose to Paul’s! Sasha concluded her speech by reflecting on the continued success of women at college today, proudly stating that in 2016 even more women applied than men. Go Sasha and go girls!
After the main course the crowd had the pleasure of hearing from Bill Porges, the beloved principal of Andrew’s from 1999 to 2008. As Wayne described it, Bill was one of the most important agents of change during this time. Bill reflected on the challenges of active change, especially in a community where tradition is so greatly cherished. He noted the importance of patience and persistence in expecting a place like Drew’s to first accept this big a change and consequently adjust to it. Bill informed us that the topic was intensely debated for a long time and justifiably so, before a class of fifty exceptional young women made history by becoming the first females to become Androvians.
Finally, the last speaker was an individual who most actively holds a strong presence in the day-to-day lives of students: Vice Principal Hester Wilson. Hester has been a prominent member of female leadership for almost as long as women have been at College, from her days at Drew’s coordinating academic excellence as senior tutor to her current role as Vice Principal. The essence of the Vice Principal role is largely to direct College Life, which Hester reflected upon proudly in her speech. She also recounted the perhaps unnoticed female presence at College that existed prior to the admission of women residents. Andrews was in fact, Hester noted, graced by a female influence through the family of male staff living at College, in addition to later staff such as the first female housekeeper or, ‘The Matron.’ However she informed the crowd that it was not until 1960 that the first woman was invited to dine at the high table. One would imagine this would have been a rather daunting experience! However she then highlighted the headway that has been made since this time, with numerous female guests at the high table now – including her own young daughter Juliette (and young son Max) who gave a wave to the crowd at the mention of their names. She acknowledged that the one hundred years it took for the College to get where it is today seems surprising, – but we have been making up for lost time ever since! Hester quoted what many identify as the most special quality of Drew’s: the sense of warmth and the feel of the place. And as she confirmed, the inclusion of Women in this exceptional community undeniably enhances this atmosphere.
Following dinner all residents were invited to join guests in the Senior Common Room for drinks and nibbles. Numerous prominent female ex-residents of Drew’s attended and all were glad to be back on their old stomping ground! Watching a group of such strong women reconnect and seeing how far the female presence at college has come since 2002 was truly a special experience. The road paved by the first women at Andrew’s is a legacy female residents now work hard to uphold, proudly continuing to be participants of active change at College.
Monday night marked just one of many more Sesquicentenary celebrations to come this year, so stay tuned
- Hilary Shannon
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