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Amanda Michaels | Thursday, February 19, 2004

When Carol Mooney used to walk across Notre Dame’s campus as a Saint Mary’s undergraduate, it was not uncommon for a young man to stick his head out of his dorm room window and scream an obscenity at her.Now, from the office of vice president and associate provost of the University, the future president of Saint Mary’s College looks out on a changed campus, one closer to gender equality than she could have dreamed 30 years ago.”There has been a great deal of progress. It would be hard for [students today] to imagine. When I was an undergrad, the campus was not a hospitable environment for young women. There was clearly a feeling of not belonging – being on someone else’s turf,” she said.Mooney graduated from Saint Mary’s in 1972 – the year Notre Dame opened up to women. She went on to earn her law degree at the Notre Dame Law School, where her male classmates openly said that women should not be there taking up seats.”[Their taunts] made me made angry,” she admitted, “but I just hoped that they would learn better someday.”And learn they did. After graduating first in her class, she joined the law school’s faculty in 1980, was awarded Teacher of the Year three years later and was recently named a member of the U.S. Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Today, she stands as the highest-ranking female officer of the University and in December was named the president of Saint Mary’s.”I have always been a goal-oriented person and my parents preached that I could be anything I wanted to be, but growing up in the 1950s, I didn’t expect much. I did have an image of adult-life where I wouldn’t be doing the things I’m doing today,” she said.In her struggle for advancement, Mooney never faced obvious discrimination, finding that in a close group of peers, even “unconscious prejudices are rare.” However, to integrate herself into these groups, she learned she had to follow “the rules of the game” if she was to be considered an equal.”I faced the challenges of any ‘outsider,'” she said. “You must dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ to prove that you belong. You work without the assumption that you belong. I never expected anyone to be happy with the minimum.”Mooney also attributes her successes to her education in an all-female environment, which gave her a store of confidence to draw upon later in her career, when she often found herself to be the only woman in the room.Now that same confidence has advanced her to a position that, fittingly enough, allows her to recruit minority faculty members – a task she says takes on both a personal and intellectual aspects for her. “Just a few years before I entered law practice, a lot of the big firms’ doors were not open to women. In fact, a lot of doors were not open to women. If it hadn’t been for the political force of those older than me, I might not have gotten where I am today, so my job is important to me personally,” she said. “I also believe that the intellectual vibrancy essential to any university campus needs to draw upon a variety of viewpoints, based on gender, ethnic, religious differences. The place is poorer without diversity.”Though the days of open hostility toward women are over, Mooney knows the struggle against discrimination is not.”You can’t divorce Notre Dame from the rest of society, and everywhere, there is still a fair distance to go before people really view women as equals,” she said. “Not that much farther, but the journey isn’t over yet.”

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before Mooney was named the 12th president of Saint Mary’s College in December.