Inaugural Women's Leadership Event Recognizes Those Who Step Up

By Rebecca Goldfine
The Sexuality, Women, and Gender Center, aka SWAG, hosted its first-ever reception in early May to recognize women leaders across campus.
Joan Benoit Samuelson toasts the first woman graduate of Bowdoin
Joan Benoit Samuelson toasting the first woman graduate of Bowdoin at the gathering.

Natalie Turrin, director of SWAG, said she wanted to have a celebratory event to highlight the courage it takes to be in a position of influence, especially as a woman.

“There is prestige and honor that comes along with taking on a leadership role, but also a lot of difficulty,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons why someone would choose not to take the mic, or be the person who has to make the hard decisions, or the one who has to hold themselves or others accountable in the group.”

To acknowledge those who shoulder these responsibilities, she and Sara Binkhorst, director of student leadership development, organized a party in Daggett Lounge May 1, inviting students, staff, and one very well-known alumna.

Binkhorst first suggested inviting Joan Benoit Samuelson ’79, P’12, H’22, to give remarks at the event. Turrin loved the idea. “We wanted to bring in someone who was emblematic of breaking barriers, especially for women,” Turrin said.

Turrin said she appreciated that when Benoit Samuelson spoke to the students, she shared candid moments of doubt, even when she was at the pinnacle of success.

Benoit Samuelson shared a story about her 1984 Olympic experience, when she won the first women's marathon. “She wasn't sure anyone would be there who cared at the other end of the final tunnel she was running through," Turrin said, retelling the story of Benoit Samuelson racing to the final lap of the course. 

“It's hard to imagine this woman who is so celebrated, the very first women Olympic marathon winner, wondering whether anyone would be there to cheer,” Turrin said. “But that is a facet of leadership,” she added, when you take risks to build something and hope that others will join and support you.

"Joanie was magnetizing," Binkhorst said, adding that she also toasted the first woman graduate of Bowdoin college, Susan Jacobson ’71, and reminded students that leadership roles can come by following your passions. "It lights a fire that can light up a room or an organization.” 

The two organizers pulled together a guest list of about 120 students. “We narrowed it down to captains of women’s sports teams, Bowdoin Student Government leaders, head leaders of all the women and feminist clubs, and leaders from the McKeen center, Ladd House, Bowdoin Outing Club, and other areas of student affairs,” Binkhorst said.

Among the staff invitees were Senior Vice President and Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann, Director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good Sarah Seames, Director of Residential and Housing Operations Lisa Rendall, Director of Career Advising Nancy Gibson, Head Coach of Men's and Women's Indoor and Outdoor Track LJ Que, and Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Health Education Rachel Renke. 

“It was an opportunity for women leaders on campus to meet and interact with other leaders, whom they might not cross paths with otherwise,” Binkhorst said, adding that “the energy in the room was contagious!”

Turrin and Binkhorst say they plan on making the women's leadership event an annual tradition, and will also build on its momentum. “I want to start with a celebration of and a recognition for women leaders, and then think about more collaborative programs that build capacity and skills for leadership,” Turrin said.

Photos by Janie Porche.