A celebrated past and a vibrant future: 130 Years of Women at Brown

Alumnae came together during a yearlong event series hosted by the Brown Women’s Network.

Since the first group of women began their studies on College Hill in 1891, Brown has been a place for women to pursue their academic interests and, for many, to discover a passion for social justice. In a series of 20 special events during the 2021-22 academic year, the Brown Women’s Network honored the generations of Brunonian women who have been pioneers in their fields, inspired others, and made a difference in their communities and the world at large.

A range of speakers reached more than 1,000 attendees across the globe through online and in-person programming. 2021 also marked 40 years of groundbreaking research, teaching, and community-building for the Pembroke Center for Teaching & Research on Women, the home of Brown’s Gender and Sexuality Studies concentration and a variety of intersectional activism projects.

Moments of inspiration

During the yearlong event series, Brunonian women weighed in on topics ranging from careers and mentorship to parenting and intersectional feminism. Here are some highlights:

  • The celebration kicked off with an inspiring conversation between President Christina H. Paxson and Sangeeta Bhatia ’90, a biomedical researcher, entrepreneur, and MIT professor. One attendee noted how it balanced “the issues of women in science, engineering, academia, and business clearly” and that she left feeling empowered by both women and their “quiet but clear call for us all to act whenever possible.”
  • Suzanne Goldberg '85 (left) and Taryn Williams '02
    Suzanne Goldberg ’85 (left) and Taryn Williams ’02 (right)
    A dynamic panel about Women in Washington featured Biden administration members Suzanne Goldberg ’85, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach in the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, and Taryn Williams ’02, Assistant Secretary of Disability Employment Policy in the U.S. Department of Labor, for a powerful discussion on the role of women in politics, education, labor, and civil rights. Williams spoke of her desire to change the culture of bias in her field: “I’ve confronted implicit bias and outright…discrimination based on race and gender in my career…I look to my mentors outside and inside of the government to ensure that I am addressing it in ways to ensure that it doesn’t happen to others inside my agency but also throughout the community that we’re fighting for.”
  • Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender Director Felicia Salinas-Moniz AM’06 PhD’13 looked at Brown through the lens of history during Examining the Evolution of Women at Brown while honoring female changemakers from Brown’s past. Afterward, attendees joined breakout rooms to discuss the evolving role of women at Brown and beyond (personally and professionally), deepen their understanding of shared and varied experiences, and forge new connections.
  • Changing an Industry: Women in Television, Film, and Media showcased senior film executive and producer Nina R. Jacobson ’87, P’23; award-winning journalist and documentarian Soledad O’Brien P’24; and accomplished filmmaker Angela Robinson ’92. The atmosphere was congenial and warm; one attendee remarked that there were “so many bits of wisdom to take away and it felt so honest and intimate—unlike media talking points and much more like a dinner with friends.”
    Nina R. Jacobson ’87, P’23 (left); Soledad O’Brien P’24 (center); Angela Robinson ’92 (right)
    Nina R. Jacobson ’87, P’23 (left); Soledad O’Brien P’24 (center); Angela Robinson ’92 (right)


A new way to network 

Through a series of Industry Nights—each focusing on a specific field such as public health, climate change and sustainability, data and technology, or government and politics—the Brown Women’s Network brought together like-minded women to forge new bonds and offer advice to others. Breakout rooms and discussions fostered solidarity and community amongst the attendees during these virtual events, and both alumnae and current students left feeling enthusiastic and energized: 

  • “My Brown education was integral to my career path, and I am reminded that sharing my perspective is a key part of learning.”
  • “I haven't gone to a Brown event in the 29 years since I left. The stories and great women brought me back.”
  • “I feel like I have more women (specifically WOC) to reach out to about career engagement.”
  • Loved meeting all the women of Brown in my breakout session! WOW! Across the life course we continue to walk, talk, and LEAD!”
  • “With such accomplished panelists, getting to see the human and relatable stories versus just the resume and result is so helpful for students and for people at my stage of life looking to be part of a community where people authentically share and support one another.”

Key takeaways

Through the Women’s Voices Amplified podcast series, author talks, lectures, and faculty spotlights, even more members of the community brought their insights to the table.

  • Co-sponsored by the Pembroke Center, Perfect Storm: Women, Work, and the COVID-19 Pandemic brought a team of panelists together to discuss the unique hardships that created the recent exodus of mothers from the workforce. Moderated by author and journalist Allissa Quart ’94; Karen Dynan ’85, professor of economics and government at Harvard, and Andrea O’Neal ’03, institutional equity and economic justice advocate, illuminated how our current system is failing working mothers and imagined a more supportive future. O’Neal called for a “conceptual reshaping about…how we care for different members of our society” and posed the powerful question, “What would it mean to know that our children are cared for throughout their life cycle?” 
  • Professor Nadje El-Ali
    Professor Nadje Al-Ali
    Professor Nadje Al-Ali, director of Brown’s Center for Middle East Studies, spoke about her research on the relationship between feminist activism and other forms of political resistance. Al-Ali has found that “feminists have been at the forefront of not only addressing issues about gender-based inequalities…but also feminists have been at the forefront of challenging authoritarian regimes, of challenging militarism, of challenging economic exploitation.” 
  • This celebratory year’s offerings included an interview on the Women’s Voices Amplified podcast with entrepreneur Jennifer Gomez ’08. Gomez emphasized the role of mentorship in her career in sports business, encouraging other women of color in the field to “take action in creating community in the spaces that you operate in.” 
  • During a separate podcast episode, playwright, director, and actor Miranda ADEkoje ’04 shared how she uses her art to talk about America’s systemic issues and discussed a play she wrote about a Black woman dealing with the challenges of running a nonprofit during the pandemic. “[My] ability to question the establishment came from Brown,” ADEkoje remarked. 
  • Charlene Wang '20
    Charlene Wang ’20
    As part of the Alumnae Authors series, Charlene Wang ’20 discussed her recent book, ​​Model Breakers: Breaking Through Stereotypes and Embracing Your Authenticity. To investigate the “model minority” stereotype that Asian Americans face, Wang interviewed “hundreds of people to find out how stereotypes shaped their lives and how we can learn from their stories.”

More events from the 130 Years of Women at Brown series

Across the yearlong celebration, attendees experienced a breadth and depth of programming that ranged from racism and fast food to gender equality during the Gilded Age.

Stay connected

Keep up with the Brown Women’s Network on social media and give them a follow to stay updated on all future events and programming.