November 2016

There’s Something About Bryn Mawr


By Saskia Subramanian ’88, M.A. ’88

Ask a Mawrter about the Bryn Mawr campus, and you might hear words like magical or amazing. Ask about the academic experience, and you are likely to hear about hard work and intellectual challenge. Most Mawrters will tell you they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. What is so special about Bryn Mawr? We sat down with Alumnae Association President Saskia Subramanian ’88, m.a. ’89, to talk about her experience and why she still calls Bryn Mawr home.

Why Bryn Mawr?

Saskia Subramanian: Bryn Mawr, when I visited, was magical—it was beautiful and full of smart, academic young women who were interested in books and concepts and studying. I knew this was the place I wanted to be.

At Bryn Mawr, I found an environment where I could fly, where I found topics and subjects that were of interest to me, where I found professors who were excited to talk to undergraduates and be part of the life of our minds. It has been an amazing place for me intellectually, socially, and personally.

It is the single best thing that ever happened to me.

What is it about a women’s college?

Subramanian: Bryn Mawr doesn’t have sororities, but being a Bryn Mawr woman gives us a stronger bond than I’ve seen anywhere else. We have each other’s backs in ways that I don’t think you achieve at co-ed institutions.

Certainly, we take classes with men: we have Haverford students and Penn students and Swarthmore students, and we have campus exchange. But there’s something about being with a group of intellectual women in a women’s institution where the assumption is that we are scholars, we are academics, we are intelligent, and we are achievers, that is unique to a women’s institution and I think particularly to Bryn Mawr.

Is there “a Bryn Mawr edge”?

Subramanian: My Bryn Mawr education helped me feel OK with taking a risk. So when, as a social scientist, I said, “I want to make a documentary film,” people said, “you can’t do that.” I said, “I’m a mawrter. Why can’t I do that?” That sense was very much imbued in me at Bryn Mawr: there’s nothing I can’t try. I may not be able to do it, but I can certainly tackle it because I’m confident that I can do it. Plus, I have resources at my fingertips, and I know how to ask for help.

To be a Bryn Mawrter is to know that it’s OK to ask your professor for help, to ask a fellow student for advice. That is part of who we are. It’s not that we know everything, but we know where to get answers and we know how to network with each other in order to get where we want to go.

How would you describe Bryn Mawr women?

Subramanian: One of the things I like to say is that the good thing about Bryn Mawr women is that we’re critical thinkers, and the bad thing is that we’re critical thinkers.

By our own admission, we are smart and inquisitive. We come from diverse backgrounds. We have inquiring minds, and we are impassioned and hard-working.

The people I met when I was here and the people I have met since—alums from other years—are some of the most precious people in the world to me. They constantly inspire me.

Do you think that today’s Mawrters are a different breed from the older generations?

Subramanian: The daughter of one of my dear friends is a senior here, and i get to see the Bryn Mawr experience through her eyes. She’s a Latina from Los Angeles, a long way from home, and the first generation in her family to go to college.

She has introduced me to her circle of friends, and when I come to campus, which is fairly often, we go out for dinner, or we have tea, and we chat, and I hear about their lives and what it’s like to be a Bryn Mawr student today. I hear about their hopes and dreams and fears, and I can match it to my own experience.

Some things are different. Some things are very much the same and I think will probably be the same for Mawrters going forward for centuries to come. And that’s magical because it’s unique to her generation and simultaneously evocative of what I experienced at that age and what generations of women before me did.

How did you first get involved with the alumnae association?

Subramanian: It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I started to understand what it meant to be part of a bigger Bryn Mawr. When I left, my network was composed of my sociology professors and my immediate friends.

After I moved to Los Angeles, i joined the Bryn Mawr Club of Southern California. It was a fledgling club at the time. There were maybe 10 of us. LA has 500 alums, but it’s a big sprawl of a city, and it’s hard to get together. Over the next decade plus, we expanded and brought in more people of all ages, from alums who just graduated to people in their 80s. We network in all sorts of ways — for the names of good doctors and lawyers, for recommendations of shows to attend, for jobs or internships.

And now I’ve been “crowned” president of the alumnae association, and I am simultaneously terrified and honored and thrilled. This is a time of great change in the alumnae association, and I’m excited to be part of it. But it is a big role.

What’s next for the Alumnae Association?

Subramanian: we’re on a path to vastly improve and expand our services to be even more inclusive than we have been before and to reach out to our alumnae/i population.

It’s a big role, and when I accepted, it was in the spirit of being cognizant of what this institution has given to me—what it has meant to me, how it shaped me, and how it allowed me to develop professionally and personally—but also of what Bryn Mawr means to the young women who are scholars here now.

Going forward, one of the biggest tasks of the Alumnae Association is to formalize our networks. We are so strong and so committed to each other, we should make it easy to find someone who might be able to help us with a question or a problem we’re having professionally. Who is a fantastic crackerjack litigation attorney because we need one? Who is a nearby young mother with whom we might be able to arrange play dates and have meaningful conversation?

Given the resources now available, we are going to see a sea change in how we interface with each other and how Bryn Mawr alumnae/i are brought back into our fold. To me, inclusivity is the one thing that I hope to help move along in the five years that I’ll be president of the alumnae association. The foundation has been laid. Now is the time for us to move forward and to make it meaningful in the lives of every single one of our alumnae/i.

Boast and brag, shout and show off!

Every Mawrter has a story about the power of Bryn Mawr. As part of the Defy Expectation campaign, we’re asking you to share your stories and get loud about Bryn Mawr.

  • Show off your Bryn Mawr affiliation by wearing BMC gear;
  • Display Bryn Mawr swag at homeand at work;
  • Hang your Bryn Mawr diploma prominently in your office;
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