Saturday, February 19, 2022

Giving It to the Man by Doing It Like a (Wo)man

"I am a radical feminist, there is no doubt about it." - Professor Marysa Navarro, 11/2/1981 interview with The Dartmouth

Traditions are typically celebrated at Dartmouth, and Ivy League institutions are renowned for their rich history, traditions, and culture. The Dartmouth of today is an ever-changing place, with the school becoming increasingly diverse in race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class. However, there was a time when questioning traditions at Dartmouth was much more taboo. Throughout most of Dartmouth's history up to the 1960s, Dartmouth was an almost all-white, all-male university to which most of the American population likely never had access. It came as a shock to me when I discovered that one of the first women to receive tenure at Dartmouth, Latin American History Professor Marysa Navarro Aranguren, was also a Hispanic immigrant. given our shared Hispanic identity, along with having experienced the immigrant perspective from the third person perspective through my parents, I was immediately interested in studying her life and career at Dartmouth.

Navarro was born in Pamplona, Spain on October 12, 1934. Navarro painted a portrait of a 20th-century Hispanic intellectual, a feminist, an activist, and a professor, despite living and teaching in an overwhelmingly white space. in a 1975 interview with The Dartmouth, Navarro spoke about her childhood and life before Dartmouth. She was born to a republican Spanish family who was forced to flee their home after the Fascist takeover of Spain while she was a baby. First, the Navarro family moved to France, but after it was taken over by the Germans during WWII, they found themselves stateless. As a result, the family finally decided to move to Uruguay, where Navarro finished her high school and her undergraduate education. Afterward, Navarro was able to complete a fellowship at Douglas College in New Jersey, and eventually married and completed her master's and doctorate degrees at Columbia University. Her decision to study Spanish American history over Spanish history stems from the fact that she thought the Spanish civil war was "too traumatic to study." Her upbringing and violent childhood inspired much of her beliefs, decisions, and political activism later in her life.

She was hired in 1969, during a period of mass unrest at Dartmouth. She humorously joked about how the Parkhurst takeover and racial unrest were her "reception [and] housewarming [at Dartmouth]." She saw that coeducation was not the panacea many claimed it to be, and that Dartmouth still maintained a sense of "machismo" or toxic masculinity which had started trickling down to the new female population. However, she stayed optimistic at this time, saying that the college had already made changes that improved on its past, and if it continued in this direction there was always the possibility for improvement. Shortly thereafter, Navarro found herself leading the Committee on Status of Women as the College considered becoming coeducational. She was worried about the lack of women in faculty and staff. 

This 1981 letter from Professor Navarro and her colleagues, Colette Gaudin and Brenda Silver, is part of a chain of correspondence between the Concerned Women Faculty, Dartmouth's administration, and the rest of the faculty women. Like today, Dartmouth in the 1970s and 1980s was an ever-changing place, and the subject matter of this letter refers to that transformation. The discussion of "issues pertinent to the status of faculty women at Dartmouth" was headed by some of the first women faculty to receive the tenure track at Dartmouth. The fact that these women were coming together to address the administration speaks to the changes that were already taking place at Dartmouth during this period. Furthermore, their ability to address both the dean and the president as a cohesive body exemplifies the increasing space and power women faculty at Dartmouth took up as the 1970s and 80s progressed.

Navarro positioned herself in Dartmouth's history as a trailblazer and an advocate, helping those after following in her footsteps. As a result, students like myself and many of my peers are now able to attend Dartmouth and enjoy their experience. Although I never personally had the chance to meet Professor Navarro here, I am moved by her immense efforts to make students like myself a part of Dartmouth's history.

Read Professor Navarro's interviews by consulting past issues of The D in the Rauner reading room. To see the 1981 letter and the rest of Navarro's manuscript collection, come to Rauner and ask for MS-1174.

Posted for Emmanuel Mariano '23, recipient of a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowshipfor the 2021 Winter term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Program provides funding for Dartmouth students to conduct research with primary sources on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the program'swebsite.