Honorary Degrees Awarded to Women at the Nation’s Top Liberal Arts Colleges

The nation’s leading liberal arts colleges gave out 38 honorary degrees to women during this spring’s commencement season. Last year, this group of liberal arts colleges gave out honorary degrees to 29 women. Bowdoin College and Smith College each awarded five honorary degrees to women this spring.

(L to R) Top row: Christiane Amanpour, Sheila Bair, Bonnie Bassler, Gwen Ifill, Margaret W. Conkey, Agnus Gund, Cynthia McFadden, Humaira Awais Shahid, Carrie Mae Weems, and Tonya Gonnella Frichner. Second row: Carolyn Swartz Bucksbaum, Jamaica Kincaid, Letitia Chambers, Eugenie Havemeyer, Sylvia A. Earle, Margaret H. Marshall, Marianne Loose, Sarah Bright Alturki, Martha Siegfried Fritz, and Azar Nafisi. Third row: Mallika Dutt, Martha Bergmark, Margaret Cheney, Ntozake Shange, Marigold Linton, Edwidge Danticat, Jane Lynch, Muriel Siebert, Susan Solomon, and Brinda C. Somaya. Bottom row: Lotte Bailyn, Judy Richardson, Anne Fadiman, Ingrid Mary Mattson, Cecile Richards, Mary K. Grant, and Anna Deavere Smith.

Here is a list of the women honorands at the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges this year:

Amherst College

Christiane Amanpour is currently the global affairs anchor of ABC News and anchor of the interview program Amanpour on CNN International, where she is the network’s chief international correspondent. She is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Rhode Island.

Sheila Bair is senior adviser to The Pew Charitable Trusts. From 2006 to 2011, she was chair of the United States Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Previously, Bair was the Dean’s Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She holds bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Kansas.

Bates College

Bonnie Bassler has been a professor in the molecular biology department at Princeton University since 1994. Professor Bassler is also an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Bassler received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of California at Davis and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University.

Gwen Ifill is senior correspondent for PBS Newshour, and is moderator and managing editor of Washington Week. She is the author of the best-selling book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama (Doubleday, 2009). Ifill is a graduate of Simmons College in Boston.

Bowdoin College

Margaret W. Conkey is the Class of 1960 Professor of Anthropology Emerita at the University of California–Berkeley. She is internationally known for her archaeological research on Upper Paleolithic art. Dr. Conkey is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and earned master’s and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Chicago.

Agnus Gund is president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She joined MoMA’s board in 1976 and served as its president from 1991 to 2002. Gund earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Connecticut College and an master’s degree in art history at Harvard University.

Cynthia McFadden is the co-anchor for ABC television’s Nightline and Primetime Live. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Bowdoin College and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She holds a juris doctorate from the Columbia University School of Law.

Humaira Awais Shahid is a journalist and human rights activist in Pakistan and a parliamentarian for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab. Shahid earned an master’s degree in English from the University of Punjab and was a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard University.

Carrie Mae Weems is an internationally known photographer and visual artist. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the California Institute of the Arts and a master of fine arts degree from the University of California at San Diego.

Colby College

Tonya Gonnella Frichner is a lawyer and activist devoted to pursuing human rights for indigenous peoples and president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance. She is a magna cum laude graduate of St. John’s University in New York City. She holds a juris doctorate from the City of New York Law School at Queens College.

Grinnell College

Carolyn Swartz Bucksbaum is a 1951 Grinnell graduate with a  degree in English and journalism. She was a founding member of Friends of Educational Broadcasting in Iowa and Chair of the Iowa Center for the Book. She sits on the Grinnell board of trustees.

Jamaica Kincaid is a native of Antigua. She is an award-winning novelist and short fiction writer and also is the author of books on gardening. She currently holds the Josephine Olp Weeks Chair and is a professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Hamilton College

Letitia Chambers is president and CEO of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. She is the former U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Chambers holds a doctorate in educational research and curriculum development from Oklahoma State University.

Eugenie Havemeyer is a life trustee of Hamilton College and founding trustee of Kirkland College. A retired school psychologist, Havemeyer earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College. She then earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Haverford College

Sylvia A. Earle, former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is currently Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. Dr. Earle is a graduate of Florida State University and holds master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Duke University.

Margaret H. Marshall is the former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the first woman to hold that position. Born and raised in South Africa, she came to the U.S.  to pursue graduate study. Currently, she is a senior research fellow and lecturer at Harvard Law School.

Lafayette College

Marianne Loose is co-founder of Lauren´s First and Goal Foundation. The foundation has raised more than $1.5 million since 2004 to advance pediatric brain tumor research and cancer services and to support and assist families living with pediatric cancer.

Macalester College

June Lomnes Dahl is a professor of pharmacology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Dahl, a national leader in cancer pain research, is a graduate of Macalester College. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Purdue University.

Middlebury College

Sarah Bright Alturki is an educator and philanthropist who has lived for more than 40 years in Saudi Arabia. She is the deputy president of Dhahran Ahliyya Schools, which now have about 1,750 students in pre-kindergarten through high school.

Martha Siegfried Fritz is a former elementary school teacher who serves on the board of trustees of the Belmont Hill School in Belmont, Massachusetts. She holds an associate degree from Colby-Sawyer College and a bachelor’s degree from Boston University.

Mount Holyoke College

Azar Nafisi is currently a visiting professor and the director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. She is the author of the award-winning Reading Lolita in Tehran, which spent 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Mallika Dutt is the founder, president, and CEO of the global human rights organization, Breakthrough. Prior to founding Breakthrough, Dutt served as program officer for human rights at the Ford Foundation’s New Delhi office. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she holds a master’s degree in international affairs and South Asian studies from Columbia University and a juris doctorate from New York University School of Law.

Oberlin College

Martha Bergmark is the founding president of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm based in Jackson, Mississippi. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Oberlin College and earned her law degree at the University of Michigan.

Margaret Cheney is a professor of mathematics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. She has been on the faculty at RPI for nearly two decades. Dr. Cheney is a graduate of Oberlin College and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at Indiana University.

Ntozake Shange is a renowned poet, performance artist, playwright, novelist, children’s book author, and educator. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a master’s degree from the University of Southern California.

Pomona College

Marigold Linton, a cognitive psychologist, is director for mathematics and science initiatives in the University of Texas system. In 1974, she was the co-founder of the National Indian Education Association. A graduate of the University of California at Riverside, she earned a Ph.D. at UCLA.

Smith College

Edwidge Danticat, a celebrated author, is a native of Haiti and came to the United States at the age of 12. She is a graduate of Barnard College and holds a master of fine arts degree from Brown University. She has taught creative writing at New York University and the University of Miami. In 2007 she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Brother, I’m Dying.

Jane Lynch is the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress of film, television and theater. She currently stars on the hit television show, Glee. Lynch is a graduate of Illinois State University and holds a master of fine arts degree from Cornell University.

Muriel Siebert was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and the first woman to head one of its member firms.

Susan Solomon, as a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, identified the cause of the hole in the ozone layer. Dr. Solomon is a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology. She holds master’s and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley.

Brinda C. Somaya is a graduate of J. J. College of Architecture in Mumbai, India, and holds a master’s degree from Smith College. For the past 30 years, she has led Somaya and Kalappa, an Indian architectural firm.

Swarthmore College

Lotte Bailyn is professor of organizational studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Dr. Bailyn is a graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University.

Judy Richardson is an award-winning documentary film producer and civil rights activist. She is the co-editor of Hands on the Freedom Plow: The Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC. Richardson attended Swarthmore College but left school to participate in the civil rights movement. She later earned a bachelor’s degree at Antioch College.

Trinity College

Anne Fadiman is the Francis Writer in Residence at Yale University. She has won three National Magazine Awards and the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. She is a graduate of Harvard University.

Ingrid Mary Mattson has been serving as a professor of Islamic Studies at the Hartford Seminary. But she has been selected to hold the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies in the Theology Department of Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario. She is the president of the Islamic Society of North America.

Wesleyan University

Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood. She is the daughter of former Texas governor Anne Richards. She is the former deputy chief of staff for Representative Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House. Richards is a graduate of Brown University.

Williams College

Mary K. Grant is the 11th president of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from MCLA, a master’s degree in public affairs from the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts, and a doctorate in social policy from the Heller School at Brandeis University.

Anna Deavere Smith is a tenured professor at the Tish School of the Arts of New York University, Two of her best-known works are the one-woman plays about racial tensions she wrote and performed: Fires in the Mirror (Obie Award winner and runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize) and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 (Obie Award winner and Tony Award nominee).

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  1. Maricela Oliva says:

    All listed individuals are very deserving women. In perusing the list, however, it appears that none are women of Latino background. Yet, there are so many Latinas doing great work and deserving of this kind of recognition. Thus, their total absence seems to indicate that they are invisible to the broader community of those who value women and their intellectual contributions. Or is it perhaps that Latina/os as a group are altogether invisible as part of the fabric of our communities large and small? I hope that future efforts to honor deserving women with honorary degrees are inclusive of the great work and contributions by Latinas of many backgrounds.

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