(Pictured: Dr. Stephanie Spangler)
Two extraordinary Yale women faculty administrators, whose contributions and impact as leaders are separated by over half a century, were saluted in a virtual ceremony April 7, 2021, when the Women’s Faculty Forum (WFF) presented the inaugural Elga Ruth Wasserman Courage, Clarity, and Leadership award to Dr. Stephanie Spangler. As Naomi Rogers, PhD, Professor of the History of Medicine articulated, “WFF’s mission is to help the university reach its fullest aspirations, with ongoing leadership of women faculty taking Yale’s gender equity temperature regularly, as researchers, advocates, and community builders. …We hope this new award will signal to the entire university that the work and key contributions of women at Yale—too often unsung—must be recognized and valued.”
The award is named in honor of Elga Wasserman, whose “trailblazing career in the university’s administration and extraordinary advocacy on behalf of Yale women in the early years of coeducation continues to inspire future champions of gender equity and diversity in high education,” said Rogers. Henry “Sam” Chauncey ’57, Special Assistant to President Brewster (1963-1977), who was charged, along with Elga Wasserman, with making coeducation happen, famously called her “a diplomat with a spine of steel.” President Peter Salovey ’86 PhD elaborated on the legacy of Elga Wasserman: “I think most of you know that our mission calls us to pursue knowledge and understanding, and it prepares students for lives of leadership and service to improve the world today and for future generations. Yale wouldn’t be in a position to do that if not for the changes that took place in 1969. Few people at that time understood how essential coeducation was to Yale’s future. Elga Wasserman, who was a special assistant to Kingman Brewster and chair of the university’s committee on coeducation was certainly one of those people who appreciated how essential coeducation was and would be. In 1970, she wrote that if an institution is attempting to attract the most talented and promising students from all segments, it cannot succeed unless it seeks women as well as men. We have Elga to thank for what went right over 50 years ago. The Yale community owes a great debt of gratitude to her and to all the women who have made Yale what it is today. Their courage, their wisdom, their determination, and their leadership showed us how great Yale could be. Today, Yale is more diverse than ever before in its history, so we have reason to be proud—but not complacent. I join everyone here in recognizing Elga’s role in championing equity and diversity at Yale, and coeducation more broadly."
President Salovey continued, “It seems fitting that Dr. Stephanie Spangler is the first recipient of the Elga R. Wasserman Courage, Clarity, and Leadership award, which honors the leadership of women faculty and staff in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in fostering teaching, research, and scholarship of the highest caliber. Stephanie has done all of those things and more for our university. Her career started at Yale when she did her residency at Yale New Haven Hospital. From there, she went on to build an exceptional career of service and leadership. She wears and has worn many hats in her distinguished career at Yale. She is Vice Provost for Health Affairs and Academic Integrity, the University Title IX Coordinator, and Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the Medical School, where she has mentored generations of physicians in that department. I can’t imagine how it was possible that she could say yes when we asked her to be the university’s COVID-19 Coordinator, but she did, without hesitation. More than anyone else, she is the person who balanced all the scientific information, all the needs of multiple constituencies on campus, Yale’s reputation in the world, and figured out how to champion our mission while preserving the health and safety of our campus and the larger community around our campus. I couldn’t be more grateful to Stephanie for her immense contributions to Yale and am so delighted to see her receive this award.”
In accepting the award, Dr. Spangler said, “Most of you who know me know that I am rarely short on words. However this is a very rare—and special—occasion where all the words I could muster seemed inadequate and all the words you have spoken and written leave me nearly speechless. So I will be short on words but know that I am endlessly abundant on gratitude for this award. I also feel extremely fortunate to be able to share in this celebration of Elga Wasserman, who brilliantly modeled leadership, courage, and clarity for so many. I knew Elga just a bit when she was alive—but those few encounters were rich in evidence of her extraordinary qualities and the power of her presence. More recently, as I re-read her own account of her career choices at a time when “choice” was not necessarily the right word (retreat or move forward), I was struck by the clear-eyed courage with which she chose to move forward from a dream of medicine to chemistry to administration to law to forge a path that fulfilled her aspirations and drew upon her talents. And to me it seemed it was the clarity with which she then reflected on those choices and the forces behind them that allowed her to lead others—undergraduate women and women scientists.
I am also so pleased to celebrate nearly 20 years of the WFF and I have taken advantage of this moment to reflect on how the Women Faculty Forum has so effectively engaged the qualities they celebrate: leadership, clarity and courage—and, more specifically, I was drawn to their choice of clarity—their wisdom in acknowledging that well-directed leadership and well-spent courage require clarity. At its inception, with considerable leadership, clarity, and courage and in the spirit of Elga Wasserman the Women Faculty Forum “re-admitted” women to Yale, albeit symbolically, by including them in the tercentennial celebration in the Gender Matters symposium—this time with the full-throttled support and engagement of the President, the Provost, and the Secretary. And as splendid as the symposium was, it was, as Rick Levin predicted, just the first step in building a sustainable base for cultivating a stronger, more inclusive community at Yale. With leadership, clarity, and courage the WFF has repeatedly nourished us with attention to diverse scholarship, introduced us to new colleagues, and has also confronted us with hard truths and hard data—relating to issues such as gender equity, effective mentoring, and of course sexual misconduct, where their detailed and prescient report envisioned many of the supports and procedures we have in place today. And on a personal note I so appreciate my many memorable interactions with WFF leaders who not only exert well-placed pressure but also exercise the well-honed partnership that allows us to find solutions together and make real change.
And finally, to all of my cherished colleagues, my dear friends, and my beloved family I must extend endless waves of gratitude—for your words, for your support, and for your example. As you craft and negotiate broad institutional policies and as you grapple with the day-to-day challenges and opportunities that life at Yale presents; as you tackle pandemics and sex-based discrimination and as you decide to come forward to share and seek help with difficult personal experiences, I am blessed with a multitude of lessons in extraordinary leadership, clarity and courage. If I have acquired any of the qualities celebrated in this award it is because you have shown me the way—not only with leadership, clarity, and courage but also with wisdom, patience, grace, generosity and care. Even in these uncertain times, I know I have great clarity on one thing—that I am enormously grateful to all of you and so fortunate to have you in my life.”
In response to a question from YaleWomen's Dr. Lydia Temoshok who asked, "What has been most memorable about your years at Yale University?" Spangler said, "I have been so fortunate to see Yale from many perspectives—as a trainee, a practicing physician, director of Yale Health, Vice Provost, Title IX Coordinator, and, most recently, COVID-19 Coordinator. The common threads in the fabric of my long experience at Yale are “care” and “community.” When I came to work at Yale Health my practice was transformed by a care delivery system that was seamlessly integrated across specialties and services--where the health of the population as well as each individual was a priority. The move to the Provost Office brought the vibrancy and complexity of the Yale community into my full view—and my work there to address sex- and gender-based discrimination underscored the need not only to attend with care to the very difficult experiences of individuals but also to identify the dynamics and values in the community that could either enable or prevent unacceptable behaviors and the related harms. Most recently, as COVID-19 Coordinator, I have had the extraordinary privilege to see Yale colleagues come together in ways they never had before to provide care for individuals and to protect the safety of the campus and New Haven communities—their collective courage, dedication, ingenuity, agility, and skill are simply breathtaking.”
Dame Alison Richard, PhD, DBE, a former and the first female Yale Provost, former Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, and former Director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, spoke about two of Dr. Spangler’s earlier roles at Yale. “I am one of those whose baby was brilliantly delivered by Stephanie Spangler. As my gynecologist and obstetrician, she was so wise, so expert, and talked to me so kindly that she made that birth a wonderful thing. She did that so well that when I became Provost in 1994, I asked her to be Deputy Provost for Biomedical and Health Affairs. Those personal and professional qualities are what one sees throughout her professional career. In the 90s, there was talk of outsourcing a lot of things, including the Yale Health Center. Stephanie was in the trenches and on the ramparts defending the YHC as an important part of Yale, and working for a new, more centrally located building to better serve various communities. She then became a wonderful Director of the YHC.”
Stephanie’s colleague Cynthia Smith, Associate Provost for Health Affairs and Academic Integrity recounted that “Stephanie was a trail blazer in everything she did, as when, in recognition of her strategic leadership skills, she was asked to work on a special project in the provost’s office, a chemical waste project, which led to Stephanie’s often-voiced phrase, “only the glamour jobs for us!” She then became Deputy Provost, with responsibility for a number of schools, including the Schools of Medicine, Public Health, Nursing, and other administrative units including the Yale Health Center. With each new role came a new adventure, for example, her leadership on a strategic plan for the West Campus. Stephanie excelled at resolving complex issues, recalling another Stephanie quote, “When you come to the office of the Provost, you get to do everything that you were never trained to do.” I once asked her which of her many projects and collaborative efforts were the most meaningful to her, and without hesitation, she cited working on the labor management board and collaborating with the unions. She said she learned so much about respect from those partnerships, and the long hours negotiating. I think those lessons served her well in creating the new Title IX infrastructure for the university, which she is working collaboratively to integrate with the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. Her commitment to the highest ethical standards, unsurpassed ability to communicate, and willingness to collaborate make her the ideal role model, inspiring not only staff and colleagues, but everyone with whom she comes in contact.”
Constance Royster ’72, Director of Development (ret.), Yale Divinity School, recognized that there were more than 20 women from the first classes of women at Yale College at the virtual award ceremony, “which is a testament not just to Elga, who we all admired, but to Stephanie, who carries those qualities that Elga so embraced and that she modeled for us. In addition to what Stephanie contributes to Yale, she is a citizen of this community, and I want to lift this up, as well. Moreover, her reach extends way beyond Yale, including serving on community boards, which makes it all the more meaningful that this award is given to her, as a person of the entire community.”
Several Wasserman family members were recognized as part of the virtual award ceremony. Elga’s daughter, Dr. Diana R. Wasserman ’77 MED recalled an expression that they used for their mother when she showed particular clarity and grace: “We would say she was being “Elgalant. Stephanie certainly deserves the title of “Elgalance,” she said.
Elga’s role in transforming Yale.
Eve Hart Rice ’73, MD, speaking as a member of the first cohort of women Elga admitted to Yale College, said: “588 women arrived in September 1969. Although not all knew Elga, we all knew that she was there, working on our behalf, ally, advocate, champion, as someone said, ‘our very own Mother Bear.’ A graduate of Smith with a PhD in Chemistry from Harvard, Elga came to New Haven in 1948 as a faculty spouse. Predictively, she encountered the social expectations, restricted opportunities, and lack of structural supports that made it difficult for a woman with three children, at mid-century, to have a full career. Nonetheless, talent triumphed. After working a research assistant and as a part-time instructor, Elga was appointed Assistant Dean at the Graduate School in 1962. In 1968, as one of the few women on campus with a PhD and administrative experience, President Brewster tapped Elga to be his “Special Assistant on the Education of Women and Chair of the Committee on Coeducation,” although he was careful not to make her an Assistant Dean in Yale College so as not to offend the men who held that rank. The decision for coeducation, made in the fall of 1968, was precipitous. And so it was that Elga and Sam Chauncey, Special Assistant to President Brewster and her partner in the work of coeducation, were handed an impossible portfolio. They had just 9 months to admit a cohort of women from a deluge of applications, shoehorn 588 women into existing facilities, address women’s academic needs when there were only two women professors on the faculty, mitigate the 8:1 male to female ratio, and for good measure, create a sense of belonging. The place, as Sam Chauncey noted, was “hopelessly masculine,” and it was Elga and Sam’s job to do something about it. The solution, according to Elga, and as she put it, “We took women who were sturdy.” Elga saw the problems in those days clearly, Mory’s being just one. Its steadfast refusal to admit women or to allow women to enter prior to dinner meant that women faculty and administrators were excluded from the working luncheons that were often held there. Elga tried to spur the University to action, but was told, “Yale cannot legislate where members of the University community eat.” So Elga wrote her own letter to the faculty, calling out the inappropriateness. Her strongly worded letter also had little impact, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Somehow, against the odds, the enterprise of coeducation worked, and Elga was later able to say of the transition, “I think it went extremely well.” Looking back, people often remember Elga for her presence. Two classmates who worked with Elga said they most recall her stance: feet firmed planted, intently leaning into the conversation, or as one said, “Everything about her was determined.” But, she added, “She was also delightful and very warm.” Elga accomplished a great deal before she left Yale in 1972, although not the full measure of what she knew was needed. Elga’s committee had been advisory, and too often, she was not at the table where policy decisions were made. However, with Elga prodding and pulling, the University had taken a momentous journey in just a few short years. Elga’s role in transforming Yale cannot be overstated. As Sam Chauncey once observed, no single person did more to assure that coeducation went well than Elga; today’s Yale women owe her a great debt of gratitude.”
— Lydia Temoshok ’72, Ph.D.
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