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Creative Life of Douglass Exhibition Celebrates History, Achievements of Women's College

In honor of the centennial anniversary of the Douglass Residential College (DRC), the college hosted The Creative Life of Douglass exhibition panel discussion on Wednesday at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library.

Currently on display in the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries, the Rutgers University Libraries (RUL) curated event is composed of University archives, such as photographs, videos, objects and books, all commemorating 10 decades of the women of Douglass College who have contributed to the numerous amounts of art on display.

Last night’s panel discussion brought together some of Rutgers’ alumni as well as former and current faculty members to discuss more about the impact that the various arts programs and opportunities have made on their lives. 

The panel discussion commenced with an introduction from one of the curators, Kayo Denda,  who expressed the importance of how special Douglass College has always been to students and faculty and the impact it has had on their experiences inside and outside of the classrooms. 

“We really wanted to focus on the experiences of the students,” Denda said. “In the classrooms taught by wonderful professors represented here, but also how they enjoyed creativity and expressed them outside of the classrooms.” 

The DRC, which was formally known as the Douglass College, was founded in 1918 when it was the New Jersey College for Women. It not only became a historic landmark for students and faculty, but also a collection of memorabilia that remains as a reminder about the impact that it has had since it was founded decades ago. 

As the event progressed, panel moderator Joan Marter, a professor who began teaching at Douglass College in 1977, introduced each of the panelists in attendance. The first guest speaker, Geoffrey Hendricks, a professor of Emeritus and visual artist associated with the Fluxus art movement that took place during the 1960s and 1970s, talked about his time teaching women at Douglass College and just how much has changed over the decades. 

“When I began teaching at Douglass in 1956, the library occupied the basement and the first floor, which is now the Ruth Adams building across the way,” Hendricks said. “And the art department had an office and a classroom for history, and a small lecture room for our gallery over on the second and third floor. And the studios were in the attic, but it has grown tremendously since then.”

Although the spaces for the various programs of Douglass College during this decade were small and limited, students and faculty, including Hendricks, made the best of it, showcasing that it is not how much you have of something, but how you make the best of the little bit that you have. 

It became clear as the discussion continued that those who were involved with Douglass College at this time made the best of what they were given. Rutgers alumna Susan Schwirck, a Douglass College graduate, was among one of these students. 

Schwirck, who was a non-traditional student, went through various stages of her life like changing different colleges, getting married at a young age and having children, before finally graduating from Douglass College. 

Even though there were many challenges she faced during her period in college, the actress still continued and never gave up. She noted that her experiences at Douglass College prepared her for the real world and made her a more confident person. 

“This was such an incredible basis for me this entire experience,” Schwirck said.” It was just fabulous and gave me such confidence to go into New York and look for work. Thank you Douglass College.” 

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