Trinity’s Women’s Leadership Council energizes alumnae
By Tess Dudek-Rolon
Bold from its start—on the heels of the college’s 40th anniversary of coeducation in 2010—Trinity’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) continues to focus on a clear mission: shape the future of the college and give a voice to Trinity women through the work of motivated alumnae. Now, just a few years before the college celebrates its bicentennial, the WLC has become an even more active, energetic, and ambitious force in the Trinity community, both on and off campus.
The original idea for the WLC came from founding members Emily Latour Bogle ’79, Nina McNeely Diefenbach ’80, P’18, Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80, and WLC Chair Patricia “Trish” Mairs Klestadt ’80 P ’09 ’11. “The WLC was formed to amplify the women’s voice in Trinity’s affairs and network with recently graduated women and those about to graduate,” says Thornburgh, who this month retires from her role as chair of Trinity’s Board of Trustees. “We have such talent among us.”
The four women found a contingent of alumnae eager to come together. “Our goal was to engage alumnae in ways the college hadn’t before,” says Bogle. When she graduated, the college had been coed for several years, “but there was still a gender imbalance.” The WLC was a way to nurture relationships with one another and with Trinity. For Bogle, the WLC was a place “to have the fellowship and camaraderie with other women and to share experiences, whether it was what we learned at Trinity or things we’ve taken into the world. A lot of it was just for us to get together and engage. And the other part was trying to help the college, by giving back and mentoring.”
BUILDING A NETWORK
In only 10 years, this sense of service has developed into robust programming that is responsive to the ever-evolving needs of women of the college. For example, the WLC was involved in developing the Venture Trinity program, which brings first-year female students together with alumnae. The WLC also has created local, informal connections for women at any stage in their working life. The group has hosted more than 250 events, including hikes in Boston with alumnae and a Trinity biology professor, brown-bag lunches for public policy professionals in Washington, D.C., and partnerships with Trinity groups including the Society of Women Engineers and the Women and Gender Resource Action Center.
Klestadt, who has served as WLC chair since the group’s inception, says one of the group’s achievements that made her particularly proud was working with members to create a scholarship fund. The WLC recently named its second female scholar.
The group also has the power to inspire. In 2019, a handful of alumnae who recognized and appreciated WLC programming sought to celebrate Trinity women by establishing the Marjorie Butcher Circle, a new group focused on philanthropic leadership.
In many ways, the WLC is defined by the generosity of spirit of its members, who share so much with the college and with one another. Diefenbach, a former trustee, says, “Having a place where women can talk about how they want to give to the college and affect the student body is so important. They’re giving in their own right—they have a place where they can address the needs of the college and demonstrate impact.”
Bogle underscores that the WLC is about fostering ties within the community. “We are here to stay connected with each other and stay connected with the college, to help the school and give back,” she says. “Everybody is welcome.”
LIFTING EVERY VOICE
Recently, the WLC began the process of ensuring that the sentiment about all being welcome rings true for everyone in the Trinity community. In June 2020, after the murder of George Floyd brought racial justice into stark relief across the country, the WLC took account of its membership and purpose. Among the 728 members of the WLC, 18.5 percent are women of color. The months to come were an opportunity to address critical concerns and recommendations for representation, programming, and governance of the WLC.
For all members, it was a moment of reflection. “We had to step back and do a lot of listening,” says Klestadt. Born from that moment is a new WLC working group dedicated to creating diversity, equity, and inclusion within the larger organization and promoting these values at the college. Shakira Ramos Crespo ’02 is leading this effort, working with alumnae women of color and allies to forge a path forward to lift all women’s voices—including those of women in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
In January, the WLC held its first event tailored to alumnae of color, “Breaking the Silence: Amplifying Our Voices: A Conversation for Women of Color with Dr. Yndia Lorick-Wilmot ’99.” Ramos Crespo says she’s hopeful about the future of the WLC. “We’re honest that we don’t have all the answers right now, but we are working on this. I’ve been very honored to lead this group because it shows the power of the amazing women who have come out of the college, and we want to see it succeed and move forward in a way that’s more inclusive and open-minded.”
In its commitment to equity, the WLC has leveraged what is perhaps its most powerful asset—the voices of its members. “We were able to have an open and honest discussion, and the DEI group came together from what the WLC members were talking about and feeling at the moment,” says Ramos Crespo, who on July 1, 2021, will take over as WLC co-chair alongside Julie Mancuso Gionfriddo ’96, M’05.
OVERCOMING ADVERSITY, TOGETHER
During COVID-19 times, the WLC’s responsiveness was again valuable, thanks to existing support systems for Trinity women in their home cities and nationally through virtual programming. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women’s employment, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the deeply connected network of working professionals in the WLC, who span a multigenerational range of experience, has become an even more important venue for finding support.
Karen Fink Kupferberg ’73, P’07, a member of the first fully coeducational undergraduate class at Trinity, also is a member of the WLC. In a moment when issues on the minds of alumnae may be drastically different from what they were a year ago, she says, “The challenges of women in the workplace are not diminished by the progress we’ve made. There continues to be a benefit to the WLC as a place to have these conversations. It’s important to have a safe place.”
WLC BY THE NUMBERS
$2.3 MILLION total donated to Trinity in FY20 ($1.7M+ to Trinity College Fund, $550,000+ in restricted gifts)
47% of members gave to Trinity in FY20
250+ programs since 2010
Find out more about the Women’s Leadership Council at https://www.trincoll.edu/alumniandfamilies/volunteer/womens-leadership-council/