Assistant News/Features Editor
In the midst of this year’s upcoming election, there is one fact that is plain to see – this is the furthest any female candidate has ever progressed in the race. The election of Hillary Clinton would mean the end of 227 consecutive years of patriarchal leadership in the United States.
A similar streak was broken on our own Springfield College campus in 2013 when Dr. Mary-Beth Cooper was appointed as president, becoming the first woman to take charge after her thirteen male predecessors.
Although this was not always Cooper’s life goal. The plan was to go to law school and eventually become a lawyer, but this soon changed when she discovered that there was the opportunity to be a staff member in higher education. She pursued that opportunity and became an adjunct faculty member and also held various administrative roles. It was not until Cooper thought about climbing the ranks that she realized that was not the norm for most women.
“All of my supervisors that were present throughout my career were all male with the exception of one,” said Cooper. “You would’ve thought they would’ve been more intuitive about the fact that there weren’t a lot of female presidents.”
To be specific, in 2013 when Cooper was applying for the president’s position, only a mere 26 percent of that role was held by women throughout American colleges and universities. That statistic has still hardly budged. It is for this reason that Cooper is not surprised that this is the first presidential election where there is a female candidate who is also a viable candidate.
It is important to recognize that it is not Clinton’s gender that got her where she is, but her years of experience. The same can be said for Cooper. Over the years, she has accumulated an impressive list of credentials that can attest to this. The list includes a bachelor’s of art degree from the University of Delaware, a master’s of science in education from the University of Georgia, a Ph.D. in college and university administration from Michigan State University, a master’s of business administration from the University of Rochester, and a doctor of management from Case Western Reserve University.
All of this would not have been possible without a key component of Cooper’s character: desire… A desire to change the blueprint and break the chain.
“It was time for the institution to mirror the diversity in its student population,” said Cooper. “When we search for a new president for Springfield College many years from now, it won’t be a question of whether we’re ready for a female president because we’ve already had one. Been there. We’ve got that history of somebody coming into that role that represents a different perspective and a different gender.”
The transition has unlocked some interesting situations for Cooper. For starters, she comes to this position with a husband. On several occasions early in her presidency, she would often find herself in social situations being instead referred to as the First Lady. Since the presidential role was always fulfilled by a man, people automatically assumed it was her husband who was the president. And Cooper doesn’t take it personally, because she understands that individuals traditionally think about college presidents in a particular manner. “It breaks their mold,” she said.
Often times women are told at a young age that they cannot accomplish certain goals or do certain things simply because they are a woman. Cooper has been encouraged to break the mold since she was a child.
“I had a father who always told me that I can do whatever I want, whatever that might be,” Cooper said. “Sometimes we get messages that we can’t, but you shouldn’t let other people make decisions for you or tell you what your limits are.”
Whether it’s attempting to head an institution or run a nation, there’s no reason to count anyone out. The mold is breakable.
And our own President Mary-Beth Cooper is a fine example of that.