In the past nine years, three women have become the first female deans of their respective colleges. Patricia Culligan, dean of the College of Engineering, said she feels very proud to hold that position.
“I think it’s important for there to be role models,” Culligan said. “If you don’t see people like you at the top, you can have the impression that you’re not really welcomed or included in the organization.”
Culligan originally studied civil engineering at the University of Leeds, motivated by her love of STEM and her desire to apply knowledge to build a better world.
“I actually selected the University of Leeds because they were known for having a high fraction of women in their undergraduate engineering programs, which for me, was like five out of 120,” Culligan said. “Anywhere else I would have been the only female.”
After graduating, Culligan went into practice as an engineering consultant before returning to the University of Cambridge to get her master’s and her doctorate in soil mechanics.
“I went into engineering at a time when there weren’t that many women choosing to study engineering at the undergraduate level, and there’s sort of a naive thought that it’s just because women don’t know how cool engineering is,” Culligan said. “You don’t assume that there’s going to be any barriers to your success.”
Down the line, though, Culligan said that she was viewed differently and her work was undervalued because of her gender.
“For some people, that can be the point at which they exit engineering, and for people like myself, who are often stubborn, it can be a reason to push through and demonstrate that that unconscious bias is not valid.”
After holding a faculty position at MIT, Culligan moved to Columbia University, where she was the first female chair of the civil engineering department. At Columbia, Culligan became “obsessed” with green infrastructure, specifically from the perspective of urban heat island mitigation and climate adaptation.
Her research on green infrastructure and stormwater management also demonstrated the importance of interdisciplinary scholarship for engineering projects. Culligan expanded her research group to include an ecologist and an environmental scientist, but it quickly became apparent that the problem went even deeper.
“A lot of the measurements we were doing were in the field, in the streets of New York,” Culligan explained. “And we found that when you’re working in the streets, the public would come up and start to ask you questions.”
Culligan was surprised by how many people were unhappy about the development of green infrastructure in their city. She became curious about the role of green infrastructure in promoting human health and wellbeing and recruited an anthropologist to help answer this question.
“If we’re going to be designing green infrastructure for urban environments from the perspective of climate adaptation and sustainability, we should be coming up with designs that do promote human health and wellbeing,” Culligan said. “Some of the designs that have been promoted by engineers right now are not doing that.”
For Culligan, engineering is about “enabling people to live better lives.” In fact, she originally chose civil engineering because she thought it meant engineering for civilization.
“You can trace back the history of engineering to the ability of communities to stay in place — to find ways to grow food in place, to find ways to protect themselves from the elements in place, to sort of find ways even to protect themselves from aggressors in place,” Culligan said.
That sort of problem-solving requires what she calls “master integrators” — people who combine interdisciplinary knowledge from disparate areas.
“The solution to the challenges that we face as a society today don’t rely on an individual person’s research lab,” Culligan added. “They lie at the intersection of discipline. And I’m very keen to promote that type of work at Notre Dame.”
Another of Culligan’s passions within academia is closing the “knowledge to action gap.”
“We need to take more responsibility for ensuring that that knowledge actually makes it off our campuses and benefits people in positive ways,” she said. The intersection of that value and Notre Dame’s mission is part of what drew her to the position of dean in the first place. “Where else would you be able to move the needle like this?”
Culligan has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of women at Notre Dame this year by both speaking with female alums and meeting young talent. Thirty-nine percent of the first-year engineering students are women.
“I think it’s important that the engineering profession at any level reflects the diversity of the society you live in,” Culligan said. “If you only have one set of voices at the engineering table, the world is going to be built . . . to only reflect the needs of that one voice.”
The year 2022 marks 50 years of undergraduate women enrollment at Notre Dame (although female students such as religious sisters have earned degrees at the university before this time). While it’s something worth commemorating, at the same time, it’s an occurrence that warrants great reflection. On one hand, the inclusion of women in the Notre Dame curriculum made large strides in encouraging women’s right to education. But at the same time, 50 years wasn’t that long ago and have we truly made coed universities a place of equal opportunity?
The poet Adrienne Rich gave a speech at Douglass College in 1977 titled “Claiming an Education” which inspired the title and essence of this column. In the speech, she formulates a lot of her argument around an ethical and intellectual contract formed between student and teacher. Students cannot afford to think of receiving an education, but rather, claiming it as their own. A true student cannot take the leftovers or “predigested books and ideas,” but must challenge oneself and seek criticism, not avoiding conflict nor confrontation.
The differentiation between claiming an education and merely receiving one is all the difference in Rich’s commencement address. The distinction is not semantic nor trivial but can be the difference between feeling at home in a university and being an imposter.
However, claiming an education requires activation energy on behalf of all female students. It doesn’t mean accepting what’s provided, swallowing empty platitudes and pretending that merely an acceptance into university is enough to placate one’s dreams and ambitions. Rich specifically states that it means “rejecting attitudes of ‘take-it-easy,’ ‘why-be-so-serious,’ ‘why-worry-you’ll-probably-get-married-anyway.’”
In addition, claiming an education isn’t a singular act conducted on a woman’s behalf. Instead, the contract is a pledge of “mutual seriousness about women, about language, ideas, methods and values,” which extends to all people. Today, children and women are continuously denied access to education, whether it be coercion into marriage, a lack of investment in the minds of women through gender bias, poverty, and many other pervasive issues. While Notre Dame celebrates our 50 years of women, worldwide, 129 million girls are out of school.
Mutual seriousness for women’s education is a growing battle. Even women who have access to education may not be treated with the same pardons and considerations as their counterparts. As I read Chanel Miller’s powerful memoir “Know My Name” this summer, I was moved by the author’s trials in keeping her head above water. Through external pressures, she attempted to maintain an air of normality and safety, while she treaded harsh calamity beneath the surface. She was forced to defend her choice of clothing attire, dance moves and her relationship with her boyfriend before the defendant, a member of the Stanford swim team, was forced to deal with the consequences of his actions to commit sexual assault.
The cover of one of the editions of her memoir is representative of Kintsugi, a Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by gluing the fragments and filling the faulty parts with gold. The goal is to not merely hide the defects of the pottery, but rather, to show that even in its brokenness, it is beautiful. In fact, it is in its highlight of its brokenness that makes it more unique, stronger and more whole.
When I was contemplating what to write about in commemoration of the celebration of 50 years of coeducation at Notre Dame, I didn’t want to focus on the negative aspects of the continual journey to equal education. I truly love Notre Dame and the amount of progress that has been made globally to encourage equal access to education.
However, I was mesmerized by the art of Kintsugi, and the notion that by restructuring brokenness, something stronger and more beautiful is created. By encouraging transparency and dialogue about the past, I believe we create space for more women and students in the future to claim an education.
When I consider the commemoration of 50 years of coeducation at Notre Dame, I think not only the victories, but the fortitude of those — present and past — who continuously provide all students the environment to grow their intellectual curiosities and capabilities. The only way celebrate growth is to recognize the trials and the starting pieces of upward movement. It is when these pieces come together, each fragment strengthening one another, in which unification and progress can truly occur.
Elizabeth Prater is a Junior at Notre Dame double majoring in marketing and program of liberal studies (great books). She is interested in the cultural implications of analyzing classics & literature under a contemporary lens. When she isn’t writing, she loves playing the fiddle, hiking in the PNW, going to concerts with friends and offering unsolicited book recommendations. Elizabeth always appreciates hearing from readers, so feel free to reach out firstname.lastname@example.org or @elizabethlianap on Twitter.
When Deborah Dell, known to her loved ones as Debi, arrived at the University of Notre Dame in 1972 with the first cohort of women, she entered with a sharp mind and a lot of determination.
Now, almost exactly 50 years later, Dell is publishing a book, “Objects in the Rearview Mirror: A Social History of Coeducation under the Dome.” The story took shape over the span of 20 years and with the help of more than 150 contributors who were impacted by the decision to implement coeducation.
The first years – inspiration and roadblocks
Sitting at the desk of her Morris Inn hotel room, Dell looked at a blank page.
“Was I the right person to be doing this?” she wondered.
Dell lived in Breen-Phillips Hall, Walsh Hall and Lyons Hall during her time on campus. She admitted that her circle of friends was small and stuck to themselves most of the time.
“Books like this should be written by somebody who was important,” she explained her hesitation.
She was in the midst of a lull in motivation. Dell said she came back to Notre Dame to get inspired.
“I’m in the hotel room, and I’ve just been to the library to get some stuff out of the archives and I’m struggling,” she said. “It’s like I hear Father Hesburgh, saying ‘Debi, put your faith in the Holy Spirit and His mother, and stop thinking so hard and just trust.’”
Dell said she started brainstorming and researching for this book in 2000 and wrote a couple drafts with a few of her friends contributing in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Her trip to the Morris Inn was during the second draft in 2006.
“[This book] was a long time coming. That’s an understatement,” she quipped. “I think the only book that took longer was the Bible.”
Debi and Darlene — missed connections and missing pieces
Darlene Connelly, class of 1977, was Dell’s right-hand woman during the second half of the project. She was also Dell’s neighbor on the first floor of Breen-Phillips Hall in 1977 — unbeknownst to either of them until a classmate introduced them a few years ago.
“Darlene — we lived in the same hall, and I didn’t know her!” Dell said. “It was just the perfect timing and the perfect marriage as far as her approach to things and my approach. We just complemented each other so well.”
Connelly said she was introduced to Dell because she was also thinking of writing a book about her experiences. Connelly’s inspiration came in the form of a mentor, Fr. Tom Tallarida.
Connelly explained that she had a long friendship with Tallarida throughout her time as an undergraduate and that she maintained contact with him as an adult.
“We stayed in touch over the years. One year, I think it was 1992, he sent me a letter. He pleaded with me to write the real story about coeducation in those early years at Notre Dame,” she said.
Connelly said she forgot about that plea until one Christmas when she decided to pay Tallarida a visit. A few days before her plans, Connelly said she got a letter from Tallarida’s niece that he had passed away.
“I carried Catholic guilt,” she said. “I never got to it. I never got around to it, and I am so sorry, so sorry that I don’t know what the story was that he wanted to tell.”
Dell said Connelly not only brought her expertise to the project, but also the contributions of the women of the class of 1977.
As Dell hosted mixers for her classmates in South Bend before home football games, word about the project got out, and men started chiming in. The men of the classes of 1976 and 1977 were soon added to the list of the writing process contributors.
Around that time, Dell said she started gathering information about the second generation of women at the University — what had changed and what had not. This was done with the help of Emily Weisbacker.
Dell also mentioned she believed it was important to include what was going on at Notre Dame’s peer institutions and in the nation at the same time.
“It was very important to me to also make sure that it wasn’t just the Notre Dame story. We looked at Yale and Princeton, and we looked at what was happening in the culture of the United States during the 70s,” she said.
Dell said she finally felt ready to write the book once she had collected the experiences of the women and men of the first five years of coeducation, the second generation of women at the University and the historical context for the story.
“So now we had the women who went through it, the men who went through it and then the second generation that was benefiting. [They] were able to tell me about the things that hadn’t changed in 30 or 40 years,” she explained. “[The book] really became so much bigger than the original concept because of the delay that took place.”
Those who went without mention — early women’s athletics
When the girls first arrived on campus, nothing was set up for them, Dell explained. Other than two hastily renovated dorms, the first few classes of women at Notre Dame had to fashion everything themselves. This included clubs, policy groups, information sharing networks and sports.
Ron Skrabacz, class of 1976, oversaw the research and writing of the chapters on early women’s athletics.
Skrabacz, who was only participated in interhall sports during his time on campus, was recruited to write the section because of his work as a sports writer. He wrote for the Daily Herald — a newspaper covering the Chicago suburbs — as a sports columnist for 20 years.
Skrabacz got involved with the project when he was at Dell’s South Bend house on one Friday night before a football game.
“Debi is a very brilliant woman, but you can put in a thimble what she knew about sports,” he joked. “She knew it was critical that sports be covered.”
Skrabacz explained that he wrote about the general atmosphere of sports during his time at the University and specifically what the women went through to start their varsity sports.
Luckily, Skrabacz said his work would not have been possible without the research of Anne Dilenschneider and Jane Lammers.
The two women were at a 30-year reunion of coeducation when they were shown a video about women’s athletics. Skrabacz explained that Dilenschneider and Lammers were upset that the video did not show the early years or how the women made the programs that today yield national championships.
Lammers and Dilenschneider then started researching. They made posters and sought out connections. The women complied “a boatload” of material, which they turned over to Skrabacz.
“All I did was the easy part. I took all their information, summarized it and turned it into a story,” he said.
Other than their inclusion in the book, over 250 women who participated in the early building stages of each varsity sport will be memorialized with honorary monograms during a home football game the weekend of Oct. 21 to 23.
Looking back and looking forward
“Objects” came out Sept. 1 and is now available for order at Barnes & Noble. There are two versions: a paperback and a special edition hardcover.
“We’re limiting the hardcover edition to 365 copies to commemorate and honor the 365 first female undergraduates,” Dell said. “The first 365 hardcover books will have a special cover that commemorates that number.”
The Hammes Bookstore is hosting two book signing events for the new release Friday, Sept. 9 from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
A labor of love of over 20 years, Dell said she hopes the book is a tribute to the strength of the Notre Dame family through good times and bad.
“It was a time when men and women came together and there were struggles, but we found each other. We had the ability to get through some pretty weird tough times, and that’s the value of the Notre Dame family,” she said. “[The book is] a balanced picture: the good, the bad and the ugly.”
The closest people to saints I’ve ever met are my two sassy loudmouth lesbian grandmas from rural Washington. Known as Moo and Ne, they represent the best and most thoughtful Christians I know.
Moo, a veteran, spent most of her adult life running the chicken soup brigade, offering hospice and medical care for people living with and dying of AIDS. Spending long days and nights ministering to and serving as a shoulder to lean on when they had no one else to turn to as they were dying.
Ne, who is always caring for others: nurturing those excluded (people and animals) and assembling menstrual kits those without access. She’s a magical crafter and makes quilts for friends sick in hospitals — carefully sewing each string and getting everyone that loves the person to sleep with it to fill it with love for them.
Neither would have been able to go to Notre Dame or to share their gifts with the Notre Dame family 50 years ago because women were not admitted.
In discussing the 50 year anniversary, Professor Kathleen Cummings, Director of the Cushwa Center and Professor of American Studies wrote about how Holy Cross Sisters were foundational to the existence of Notre Dame. Women have been integral to the creation of the school, well before they were admitted. However, it’s not hard to see the ways that our community has grown stronger since women have been admitted.
In the past 50 years Notre Dame women have made campus and the world a better place. Condelezza Rice became the first black woman to be secretary of state. Brooke Norton, the first woman ever elected student body president became one of the most consequential in history then had a successful career in political communications. Jenny Durkan served our country as the first Lesbian woman to become state attorney in Washington and was later elected mayor of Seattle. Women have made their mark since being admitted.
While we as a community have grown stronger, we haven’t always provided the best environment for all women who we let in. While some have found their home and others have been excluded from Notre Dame feeling like their home.
In 1996, before she was a famous journalist and academic, Nikole Hannah-Jones was a junior at Notre Dame. She spent long nights in Hesburgh reading, cheering on the football team on the weekends, and trying to find her people.
One night when she was finally starting to feel like she belonged on campus, she had the n-word hurled at her by a white student, causing her to write how, ‘Notre Dame is yours but the world is mine’. Hannah Jones felt like Notre Dame fundamentally wasn’t built for her, that she didn’t belong. This reality still reflected today in 14% of minority students stating they don’t feel like they belong here, while only 6% of white students say the same.
A story echoed in another experience just a few years later: Jeneka Joyce was on the women’s basketball team in the early 2000s and was often described as a “study in success”, a woman who electrified the basketball court and had engaging academic conversations after the game.
In 2003, when she was a junior, Jeneka began questioning their sexuality; coming out as queer, which she defined as more all-encompassing for everything not deemed heterosexual. She got more involved with LGBTQ+ communities on campus and spoke out against the ways that the campus does not always fulfill its mission of being home to its students; for her feeling like queer students were excluded from much of campus life.
These two brought unique and wonderful gifts to the Notre Dame community. Throughout my time at Notre Dame, I’ve been lucky enough to come into contact with similar saintly folks who have changed the trajectory of my own life here.
Last year I wrote an article discussing the perils of my friend. A person so filled with love and kindness for others but so filled with pain from feeling that Notre Dame doesn’t love him back. A reality felt in campus policies that force him into dorms and housing situations that don’t match the lived reality of his gender identity.
Hannah Jones, Joyce and my friend’s stories are not universal for folks of different backgrounds, but are also not sillowed from the lived realities of many on campus. And with just small tweaks to how we run as a institution we can make a community
This year further marks 50 years of the federal regulation Title IX being signed into law, which enshrined protections for women in educational institutions in classrooms and playing fields.
This summer, the Biden administration announced reforms to Title IX; to roll back Trump-era rules, expand protections for survivors of sexual violence and protect LGBTQ+ students from sex-based discrimination.
One of the most controversial parts of these new regulations is the expansion of Title VII employment protections for LGBTQ+ employees to Title IX by defining sex-based discrimination to include discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity.
After new regulations are announced there is a 60-day period for public comment on the regulations, schools or organizations of schools will announce their responses to the rules and then within institutions there arises much debate over how the regulations will be implemented.
Notre Dame choose not to write a comment of their own and instead is signing on to another schools comments. Legal council and the Office of Institutional Equity are currently in debates about whether or not we should, as a University, take a religious exemption to the sections of Title IX around LGBTQ+ discrimination for the first time in our institutions history.
If we decide to take a religious exemption we make ourselves poorer in the spirit, we close our doors and ourselves to so many potential students, faculty and staff because of who they are. And, for those who do still end up coming to Notre Dame, we turn our backs on them.
Notre Dame isn’t, and shouldn’t, be made for everyone, but it should be a place where more feel this is their home. No school can possibly be made for every individual and unique soul. However, it is foolish to think our best days are from when this school was only wealthy, white, straight, Catholic men. Our faith and our school is strengthened by the diversity of our heritage.
According to recent inclusive campus survey numbers, many students from non traditional Notre Dame backgrounds: students of color, disabled, first generation, low income, from different nationalities, queer students and feel like they don’t belong at much higher rates.
Creating a community where ALL women are able to thrive should be a central aim of the next 50 years of women at Notre Dame. It’s not enough to just admit people, we fundamentally have to make everyone feel like this is their home too.
To take one step towards making the next 50 years even a fraction better, send an email today to the Assistant Vice President of Institutional Equity, Erin Oliver, (email@example.com) and the Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs, Laura Connelly (firstname.lastname@example.org), expressing your desire for Notre Dame to be compliant with the new Title IX regulations as a testament to our faith as a Catholic University.
We can do better Notre Dame and we have to. We risk losing the immense sacred gifts of queer saints like my grandmas, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jeneka Joyce or my friend put in the wrong dorm. Take one step today to make a better home for them tomorrow.
Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Gender Studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS want to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on twitter or email@example.com.
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of women at Notre Dame, Scene has created the ultimate female-powered playlist filled with Notre Dame alumnae, your favorite artists, the future generation and artists who paved the way for women in music…
Killer tunes by cool women!
“Collected” (2021) by Ratboys
Formed in 2010 at Notre Dame’s freshman orientation, Julia Steiner (vocals/ guitar) and Dave Sagan (guitar) established Ratboys. While Julia and Dave are the glue that keeps the band together, Julia’s songwriting elegance and dynamic storytelling is like no other.
“Rosy” (2021) by Payant
Payant is the creative project by Ashley Finster (class of 2021) and friends! Throughout Ashley’s time at Notre Dame, she was a powerful force in the student band the Basement Boxers. Payant is a beautifully composed album filled with songs that give us insight into Ashley’s soul.
“Just a Girl” (1995) by No Doubt
A that song needs no introduction, No Doubt’s first single to reach Billboard’s Hot 100 list can be considered one of the greatest feminist songs of the 90’s.
“Brand New Key” (1972) by Melanie
Melanie Safka (or simply Melanie) is an American singer-songwriter often compared to Bob Dylan. Her unique folk undertones and sense of 1930s nostalgia, made her stand out amongst her male-counterparts, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles in 1972.
“Angelica” (2022) by Wet Leg
Wet Leg is a force to be reckoned with. After releasing two debut singles in 2021, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers found themselves on charts all over the world almost instantly. The English duo have firmly established themselves on the scene, and we are not complaining.
“Tonite” (2022) by The Linda Lindas
Ranging between 12 and 17 years old, The Linda Lindas are the future. Since 2018, Bela Salazar, Eloise Wong, Lucia and Mila de la Garza are preserving the spirit of riot grrrl punk.
“You’re so Vain” (1972) by Carly Simon
Topping the global charts in the early 70’s, Carly Simon is known for writing one of the greatest songs of all time. Her impeccably vivid yet ruthless narratives have rightly earned her the title of the most prominent confessional songwriters of our time.
“Under the Table” (2020) by Fiona Apple
Recipient of a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Rock Performance in 1996, Fiona Apple walked so Mitski could run!
“Scream” (2019) by Stef Chura
Stef Chura is a Detroit-based artist with lots of soul and angst. In collaboration with Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest), she released her second album in 2019. After the passing of her friend, she asked herself: “What do I have to do before I die? I have to at least make one record.”
“People have the Power” (1988) by Patti Smith
Patti Smith, the godmother of punk.
“You Oughta Know” (1995) by Alanis Morrisette
In the same vein as Carly Simon, Alanis Morriestte is known for her heart-wrenching confessionals. As a songwriter, she pours out her heart for her listeners, providing comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone. Her album “Jagged Little Pill,” is her biggest confession to date.
Duncan Student Center replaced the legislative chamber of the United States Capitol for Senator Mallory McMorrow this past March. Returning to her Alma Mater, the 2008 graduate joined a panel of eight Notre Dame alumnae to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the admission of undergraduate women at the University of Notre Dame.
Part of the celebration dubbed “Golden is Thy Fame,” Career Conversations with Trailblazing Women invited Sen. McMorrow to share her experience building a career in the contentious domain of American politics. More specifically, building a successful career as a woman. The aforementioned title of the event deserves commendation for its accuracy. The female panelists boldly blazed trails in their respective fields — trails that others now have the option to follow.
Sen. McMorrow in particular is a critical figure for young women aspiring to work in politics and government. She represents what is possible for women given enough strength and passion. She proves what is possible for women when we risk, persevere and demand a seat at the table.
Sen. McMorrow currently serves Michigan’s eighth district — a significant feat considering the state of Michigan did not elect a woman to the U.S. Senate until 2000. Michigan’s first female senator, Debbie Stabenow and Sen. McMorrow both campaigned in the 2018 election cycle. 2018 continues to be a beacon of hope for proponents of equal political representation. Women candidacies reached a historical high in 2018, exposing a promising trend in American politics—the increased mobilization and political engagement of women. Female leaders benefit society as a whole; however, real, lasting change requires more than individual successes. It requires action. Now. When inadequacy translates to candidacy, things get done.
Despite the unprecedented number of women running for office, the discouraging reality is that we still have a long way to go. While 51 percent of the United States population are women, women make up just 24 percent of the Senate. The result? The underrepresentation of women in American politics.
Of the people. By the people. For the people.
The issues we face as a country are women’s issues. If social, political and structural barriers exist for women in electoral politics, we must find a way to alter the system. Our country suffers when half of its population is granted a quarter of its voice.
Trailblazers like Sen. Mallory McMorrow provide an essential perspective on Capitol Hill. Women’s issues must be at the forefront of the American agenda — not only for lawmakers, but for the general public. The U.S. lags behind other established democracies when it comes to women’s representation in politics. But we cannot win seats if we do not run. At our current rate, the U.S. will not reach complete legislative parity for another hundred years. We must accelerate this timeline. Instead of asking for a seat at the table, women must demand a seat at every table.
You can contact Ashlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org
BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5pm in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @bridge_ND.
Serena Williams’ historic tennis career has come to an end, completing the evolution away from tennis she announced in an August op-ed for Vogue. Last Friday Williams played her last game of tennis in the Arthur Ashe Stadium against Ajla Tomljanović.
Any tennis fan or person familiar with the movie “King Richard” probably knows the humble career beginnings of Serena and Venus Williams. The two sisters learned to play tennis on the public courts of Compton, California under the careful instruction of their father, Richard Williams. Beginning her professional career at age 14, Williams won her first major singles title at the 1999 US Open as a 17-year-old. From there: she went on to win at every major tournament multiple times: another five times at the US Open, three times at the French Open, seven times at the Australian Open and seven times at Wimbledon. Altogether she has won a total of 23 major titles, more than any other tennis player in the Open Era – man or woman.
William’s accolades go beyond those 23 major titles, though. According to ESPN, she has collected 858 tour victories, 73 singles titles, an Olympic gold medal and spent a total of 319 weeks at No. 1 in women’s tennis. With her sister, Williams has also won 14 major women’s double titles and three Olympic gold medals.
The impact of Williams, along with her sister, goes beyond just their victories. After an injury took Serena out of the competition in 2010, the only Black female player in the US Open women’s single draw was Venus. In the 2020 US Open, the number of Black women playing for the United States increased to 12 out of 32. Many of today’s young Black players credit the Williams sisters for their interest in the predominantly white sport. Such players include Coco Gauff, Taylor Townsend and Frances Tiafoe.
What’s next for Williams? Her attention now turns to the work of her company Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm she started in 2014 that focuses on health, wellness and athletics. Serena Ventures is one of the few venture capital firms owned by a Black women.
Williams wrote in Vogue that “seventy-eight percent of [Serena Venture’s] portfolio happens to be companies started by women and people of color, because that’s who we are.” She believes that representation matters on and off the court. “It’s important to have women like that who believe in you and push you to think bigger and do bigger,” she said.
Her other plans include expanding her family with husband Alexis Ohanian. Williams noted that her daughter Olympia’s current wish is to have a baby sister. She “feel[s] that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family.”
In the end, Williams’ last run at this year’s US Open was a reminder of who she was as a player throughout her phenomenal career — a fighter. The directors of the US open had a magnificent celebration of Williams’ career after her first round, almost as if expecting her to lose. Instead, William fought through the first round and then the second. She fought valiantly — grunting, sweating, swinging — all the way until her final volley sent the ball into the net for the last time.