To celebrate our 50th anniversary of coeducation, we invited three pairs of Lafayette women to share their stories of progress and persistence. The pairs met in early spring 2020, following distancing protocols, to share their past experiences and their hopes for the future
Barbara Strasburg Tucker ’84 P’08, P’11 Member of the women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams
Jacklyn Fein ’21
Member of women’s lacrosse team, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president
BT: What attracted you to Lafayette?
JF: I went to Easton High School. My father was a football coach here. I grew up walking around College Hill and picturing myself here. In high school, I ended up playing lacrosse, and that was my avenue to get to Lafayette. What really solidified my decision to come here was the team I met. I could see myself being a part of that.How about you?
BT: I’d done college tours with my older brothers. My mom said I could miss a day of school and pick a place to visit. I chose Lafayette because it was about an hour from my house, and I got an interview. I have to say, the cliché of all clichés, I walked on campus, and I just fell in love. I loved the way I felt when I got here. It proved to be true. It was a great fit for me.
JF: What attracted you to field hockey, lacrosse?
BT: I played hockey and lacrosse in high school. And I was only going to go to places where I could play. It was a very different time back then. Some girls were recruited. But a lot of us just said once practice starts, we’ll be there.
BT: Can you take me to 2020 when you found out your season was canceled?
JF: Yes. We had heard rumors about this COVID-19 virus, and we all kind of thought of it as this thing that was only in other countries. Our coaches called a meeting and said, ‘This virus is getting pretty serious. We’re going to have to cancel Senior Day’—the next game was senior day. All of us were so disappointed. We felt terrible for the seniors. But everybody thought that this was going to be a two-week break. I remember getting a phone call from my coach and her saying, ‘We think it’s going to be longer than two weeks. We think that the 2020 season is over.’ I feel like a lot of times, it’s cliché, but you don’t miss something until it’s gone. It was so disappointing that we worked so hard for so long, and that was taken away. It was sad. But all that made it more special to be able to come back for the spring 2021 season.
BT: So how was it that first time you were back on the field together?
JF: They’re my best friends, my family. It was just such an indescribable feeling of being able to play with them and play a game we love all together.
BT: What do you find is your biggest challenge as a student-athlete?
JF: I think balance. You are so demanded from an academic standpoint, but also an athletic standpoint. And then your mental health, your social life, being able to take care of yourself. But what I love so much about Lafayette is they really navigate those things for you. We have a peer mentor program for student-athletes.
I also feel like there is an open line of communication between coaches and administrators. Currently, I’m the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and we hear all of the things that student-athletes are struggling with. It might be that the dining halls close too early, and people get out of practice at 10 p.m. and need food. So how can we navigate those things to make the experience a little bit easier?
How about for you? Because I feel like back then maybe with coeducation being new, women weren’t as prioritized?
BT: Well, it has been 50 years since women have been here at Lafayette. I’m on the 40-year mark, a product of the ’80s. But I had never felt underserved as a woman, it was just that the effort wasn’t put into facilities like it is now. Your facilities are gorgeous. We didn’t even have a place for our parents to sit; they all stood. I give credit to both Sharon Mitchell and Barb Young for really developing a program before I came here. I don’t think we lacked for anything. I think we had everything that every other college had at the time. Now compared to you guys, we lack a lot! But you know, when you don’t know it, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is great!’ I was just so happy to play. I was so happy to be with my friends. I just knew every day at 3 o’clock, I was going to see my friends. So it made school that much better.
What memories will you take when you leave?
JF: I love all the relationships I’ve built here and the people I’ve met, in academics, athletics, clubs. Lafayette’s small, tight-knit community has been such a blessing. I’m so grateful for it. To leave here with so many experiences that I’ll cherish for such a long time.
BT: How do you see women’s athletics evolving in the future?
JF: I think that women are going to start to have a voice, which is extremely exciting. We can make just as much, maybe even more, change as men. I think that’s extremely important. Men are not just the leaders, we are too. I think the possibilities are endless. And I think that the shaking up of not just COVID but of the first female football player and just the disparities between professional basketball teams coming to light, I think that really has shown that the future of women’s sports is really bright.
BT: That was so well said. And I’d like to give a shoutout to Natalie Kucowski, our first Lafayette player to be drafted by the WNBA.
JF: I’m so, so happy for her. It’s amazing. It’s so exciting to see where it’s going to go.
BT: They can’t stop us. It’s only going to be better.
JF: I love that. They can’t stop us.
Alma Scott-Buczak ’74
associate vice president of Human Resources at Lafayette, former member of the Association of Black Collegians (ABC)
Jerri Norman ’21
B.S. Civil Engineering (2021), B.A. Chinese Language and Culture (in progress), member of ABC, Queer People of Color (QPOC), and Women’s Rugby team
ASB: So I’ll tell you why I came to Lafayette—I’d love for it to be all these intelligent reasons. But when I graduated from high school in 1970, it was the beginning of the push for civil rights and affirmative action and Title IX. Colleges were feeling pressure to look for students of color. They sent buses down to my high school in Philadelphia and to take us to their college to visit. A lot of us would go because it was a cool thing to do on Saturday. One of the trips was to Lafayette. I got to the campus, and I fell in love. I thought it was the most beautiful place on earth. And so my coming here had nothing to do with what they offered academically. I was like, ‘I like the way it looks.’
I’d love to hear what brought you to Lafayette.
JN: I was looking for something small with a community feeling. I didn’t want to feel like I was going to drown in a sea of too many students. I also was interested in getting a dual degree. I am graduating with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering. I’ll be coming back in the fall for the Chinese language and culture Bachelor of Arts. I want to continue school, maybe graduate studies in city and regional planning, specifically transportation planning. I also do want to study abroad again in China. I was able to get into an interim program in 2019 in South China with two professors at Lafayette, and it was a life-changing experience.
What was your experience like being on campus in the first class of women?
ASB: In addition to being in the first class of women, it was a year in which they had a greater population of African American students. I was used to being in a situation where I was one of the few women and one of the few Black students, so none of that was strange to me. I was an economics major, I was an RA, I was in McKelvy Scholars. I spent a lot of time with the Association of Black Collegians (ABC).
I also remember two things about being in the first class of women: Number one, they had bathtubs in Ruef Hall, when no one could figure out why, because there was no way any of us were using those bathtubs. The other thing was the Pardee Hall doors were so heavy. I was a 90-pound weakling. I literally couldn’t open the doors. I would have to get there early and hope that someone would open the doors for me so I could get to class. After a couple weeks, I guess facilities figured it out. One day I could actually open the door, and I know it wasn’t because I had developed muscles.
JN: During the first weekend or second weekend I was on campus, ABC had a cookout, and that’s where I was able to meet more people who looked like me and find a sense of community. Not that I didn’t feel comfortable on campus, but there’s a sort of yearning for finding people who looked like me and understood the different things that I would be going through. It was something I cherished.
How did ABC shape your time here?
ASB: We gravitated to ABC as a place of familiarity, a way to let your hair down. It was everything—from just hanging out and playing cards, to studying together. We were each other’s support system. We also had a real passion about having an impact on the school, trying to leave it more welcoming for the students that will come behind us. So advocating with the administration to hire more Black faculty, for more Black studies programs. We also did community service work. One of my favorite programs was called Black Children Can. Every Saturday, we would bring kids up from the Easton community, and just bring them into a college environment and let them know they would be welcome in this space. We did programs, we took them on trips. That was one of my fondest memories.
How has your extracurricular experience been?
JN: I made it a point to get involved in activities. During my freshman year, I was a part of the precision step team. I joined the rugby team in my sophomore year. I’m part of ABC and QPOC, which is the Queer People of Color organization on campus. Being a part of organizations like that allowed me to meet more people as well as learn more outside of just math, science, and problem-solving. That was a way I was able to build community.
ASB: Tell me a bit about the research you’ve done.
JN: Over the summer, I was looking for more connections with Lafayette alumni of color in the transportation field. I was looking at how a lot of essential workers had been affected by the stay-at-home orders. Some people were laid off or furloughed. Some of my friends had to work during the pandemic in order to support their families. My mom is a flight attendant, so she was still working, but also not working. It was a mixture of things. I connected with Dr. Mosi London, Class of 2010, who was starting research on COVID-19 and how it affected environmental justice areas. From that I created my own realm of research, in which I looked at how essential workers had been affected during the prime of the pandemic.
ASB: One of the things I notice about Lafayette now is the availability of all these learning experiences, like doing the research you’re doing, or going overseas, or being involved with the Dyer Center or the Hanson Center—none of that existed when I was here. I’m not saying we didn’t get an excellent education, but there’s so much available for students now.
You’re probably familiar with the McDonogh Network. It’s an organization of Black alumni. One of the things that we wrestle with is how we can be supportive of the students who are on campus.
JN: I would love it if the McDonogh Network worked more with the Engineering Division. I also think being able to bond with alumni through campus organizations and groups would be valuable. It doesn’t have to be about business or networking—just being able to know more people are here to support and that they’re an email or a call or a text away.
Professor and Air Products/ Ghasemi Chair in Engineering for Interdisciplinary Teaching
Lauren Anderson ’04
Associate Professor and Department Head, Chemical Engineering
LA: So, Polly, we’re celebrating 50 years of coeducation at Lafayette. A lot of things have changed for women in engineering.
PP: Yes, since you were a student here, how do you think things have changed?
LA: It never felt unusual to be a woman in my engineering classes. What was different is there weren’t many female faculty. Of course, I had you as one of my professors. But in chemical engineering, you were the only female faculty member at the time. There were four female faculty within engineering. And now we have 12. It changes how you feel as a student, right? You have somebody to look up to, to be the role model. And it normalizes that conversation we have all the time about work/life balance. It really has always influenced me, how you talk about your family and have pictures of your kids and Legos on your desk that your kids made. At Lafayette, we have gender parity within our engineering program. I think women feel very comfortable in our classes, and research opportunities are increasing. With recent funding and the Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars Program, there are more opportunities now to get involved than when I was a student.
How have things changed for you from the faculty perspective?
PP: I’ve been here 30 years, and there have been some changes. When I came, I was the only female faculty member, and I wasn’t even sure how to dress. The men wore suits and ties to teach, so I had to figure out my own dress code. Another thing that changed is that there was no maternity leave policy; there was a disability leave. Six weeks after I had my son, I had to come back, and I really wasn’t ready. But now, I think we have a very good parental leave policy.
LA: So we’re here at LeopardWorks, and I know you teach here. How has your teaching changed over the years?
PP: Yes, my teaching has really changed, and part of it is because of facilities like this. Thirty years ago, I taught Fortran on a chalkboard because there weren’t computers for each student. Right now everything I teach is pretty much hands-on. LeopardWorks is a great facility for having the students build things or create things. Always at Lafayette, we have had the opportunity for one-on-one interaction. I enjoy working with the students and getting to know them in the research labs, seeing them grow and evolve, seeing when students find their strengths. I enjoy that moment when they realize that they can do something that they didn’t think they could do. When the light bulb goes on, and they finally understand something, that’s very exciting.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
LA: I think now it’s having the students teach me. I’m sure you have stories about that too. I think when you first start [as a faculty member], just like you described ways to dress, the focus is on setting a tone in your classroom—that you are the professor. But as you become more mature in the classroom, you realize that we’re all learners. Although we are professors, we have a lot to learn from our students. I really enjoy the conversations that we have at Lafayette with our students. I think that’s why I loved it here so much as a student and one of the reasons why I came back. When students get a job or an internship, or they win a fellowship, they come running down the hall with a big hug, and I love those moments, those personal relationships that we build with students over time.
One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is that for women engineers here at Lafayette, it’s so normal to be a female engineer in a supportive environment. But when you go to the workplace, there are challenges that women have in dealing with gender bias. Have you had any conversations with students who have gone into industry?
PP: Yes, I think just being aware of what problems previous students have encountered on the job is helpful. Some students I’ve kept in touch with have been working for these small companies where they aren’t the only woman, or it’s a younger company that has more opportunities, and it seems easier for them to advance. At the big manufacturing companies, the people who hire them want them to succeed. And so I encourage them to find a mentor there who will help them learn within the company’s culture.
LA: It’s been great that we bring back alumni from different industries who can share experiences. We’ve now also added biomolecular engineering and environmental engineering, and we have seen a rise in the number of female engineers in our own major and our own disciplines. I think companies will evolve, and there will be more opportunities to grow. Hopefully, the future continues to improve in that way.
Featured here are excerpts from each pair’s conversation. You can watch a video and read a transcript of the complete conversations here.
Learn more about how the College commemorated its coeducation anniversary here.