President’s Pen: Winter 2020

Mindy McWilliams Lewis ’75, P’05 at Mount Holyoke Convocation in 2016. Photo by Lisa Quinones.

It’s been 20 years since political scientist and Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam described the decline of communal activity and community in America in “Bowling Alone,” and, with the publication of an updated edition expected later this year — an edition that explores the impact of social media and the internet on this phenomenon — it is clear that Putnam’s concerns have a continuing, and perhaps even greater, relevance today.

When, in 2016, we put community at the center of our Strategic Plan for 2021, it was because we had a sense that there was some erosion of the “bonding” and “bridging” that occurs in college settings, and that are at the very heart of the liberal arts college experience. We are, of course, not just one community, but a College comprising many intersecting communities, from class years to identity groups, and from a cappella to athletics. Commingling (further enhanced by the new Community Center and Dining Commons), a shared endeavor, our rituals and traditions, as well as the physical containment of our campus, all reinforce the connection we feel to each other, and to place. Networks — different for each member of the community — move us through a shared experience. We are students, faculty, staff and alums. We are Lyons or “Yokes.” Together, we are Mount Holyoke. Not everyone feels completely connected all of the time, but with class colors and loyalty, affinities and Facebook groups, and with Mount Holyoke printed on publications and business cards and emblazoned on sweatshirts and even socks, we know what we mean when we say that “Mount Holyoke forever shall be,” or when we softly whisper the call of the “Alma Mater.”

Mindy McWilliams Lewis ’75, P’05, who is celebrated in this edition of the Alumnae Quarterly, frequently responded to that call, and to others. She was a lifelong contributor to the communities of which she was a part — this College, her church, her local school board. When she received the Alumnae Association’s Mary Lyon Award in 1989, she was praised for her “particular brilliance in identifying groups that can and should be brought together and motivating and facilitating their interaction.” Mindy was a community builder: She knew how to make a connection with each person, and between people, seeing ways to get things done through her own rich talent of seeing it in others. Mindy was connection and collaboration, harnessed in the service of this community and of her full and powerful sense of what was right, what needed yet to be done, and how to lead and enlist others in that effort. Her loss is a great blow to our community, just as she was a great gift to it.

“We need to remind ourselves that a part of community is care and that our sense of belonging holds within it compassion and empathy, as well as hope and forgiveness.”Sonya Stephens

Not everything is perfect in communities, of course. Engagement, advocacy and inquiry do and should lead to disagreement and productive tension. There are missteps and mistakes and the deep learning that follows. When there is rub or hurt within our community, when there is disappointment or conflict, and when any member of our community is affected by events, we need to remind ourselves that a part of community is care and that our sense of belonging holds within it compassion and empathy, as well as hope and forgiveness.

As we begin a new year, and as I turn my thoughts to the importance of care and connection in the Mount Holyoke community, Spanish Professor Dorothy Mosby’s moving 2017 Convocation address to this “brilliant, brave and beloved community” comes to mind. Professor Mosby reminded us then that our well-being is caught up with that of others, here on campus and beyond. May your relationships with each other and with Mount Holyoke, as well as with your communities around the globe, bring you, this coming year and in the future, a sense of inseparable interconnection and compassion. 

—By President Sonya Stephens

This article appeared in the winter 2020 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.

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