With the passing of one of the world’s most well-known monarchs, I find myself reflecting on Cornell’s reigning female: President Martha Pollack. President Pollack is to Cornell what the queen had been to England: a mythical figurehead hidden away from her kingdom. Just as the queen was, Pollack is cut off from the population which she reigns over, locked behind closed doors, inaccessible to her subjects. That is not to say that being the president of a university is not an important job, but Pollack is missing out on a prime opportunity to engage with students as a strong female role model.
This semester, I have enrolled in a class called UNILWYL 1120: Wonder Women. The class hosts a different female speaker once a week in one of three female professors’ on-campus apartments. The women chosen to come speak range from doctors and lawyers to rabbis and opera singers, and everything in between. Having the chance to engage with these women in an intimate setting and learn about their lives has been so rewarding, not just because they are powerful women, but because they each have lived such diverse and full lives, and they have so many meaningful experiences to share with young people like myself. It is a rare gift to be able to talk to these women and form real relationships with them. As young people in today’s world, we have exposure to a lot of female role models. From Simone Biles to the notorious RBG, it’s not that we are lacking in female role models, it’s that we are lacking in real life connections to them. This class has given me that, but that experience should be universal among college students, especially at a university with a female president.
As you may have guessed, the Wonder Women class is comprised of all female students, not by requirement, but simply as a result of the content. This is where I have an issue. Don’t get me wrong, I love a strong, empowered group of females. Yet, when we are exposing only young women to strong female role models, we are missing out on the opportunity to educate young men on how to view and respect their female counterparts and treat them as equals.
That’s where President Martha Pollack comes in. I have been a student at Cornell for three years and have never seen her in person, heard her speak at an event (admittedly, COVID didn’t help this) or had any type of interaction with her beyond an extremely rare email that has her name signed at the bottom (and was almost certainly not written by her anyways). Now, I am sure President Pollack is very busy with her presidential duties (whatever they may be), but her lack of interaction with the student body has limited her ability to serve as a positive female role model for the men and women at Cornell’s campus. Pollack is in the perfect position as the president of an Ivy League university to show young people what it looks like to be a respected woman in power. Instead, she is hidden away in her office, only to be seen at graduation. Too little, too late.
The world of women’s rights has come a long way, especially in academia. I am thankful to have a fairly even mix of male and female classmates, as well as professors, and to never feel out of place as a woman here at Cornell. So, believe me when I say, this is not a complaint about feeling less than men in any way, ever. Rather, this is a call for President Pollack to make herself known among students. Pollack needs to lead by example for the young men and women at Cornell to give us an intimate, more authentically personal look into the world of women in power so that all students (not just girls who enroll in Wonder Women) are exposed to strong female role models on a deeper, more genuine level. President Pollack can be more than just another mythical figurehead like the queen, she just has to step out from behind her presidential desk.
Halle Swasing (she/her) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Goes Without Swasing runs every other Sunday this semester.