The University Record, October 18, 1999


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The Sarah Goddard Power Award

By Aline Soules
Co-Chair, Academic Women’s Caucus

The Academic Women’s Caucus serves as a forum for the exchange of information about the status of academic women at the University of Michigan, and as a focus for action necessary to the investigation and resolution of their special concerns. One goal of the caucus has been to promote and confer the Sarah Goddard Power Award, an award that highlights the accomplishments of members of the University community who have distinguished themselves through their leadership, scholarship and sustained service on behalf of women. The late Regent Sarah Goddard Power originally suggested that the Caucus present awards to such individuals. In 1984, an Awards Committee was established to select the first recipients of the awards, then named the Academic Women’s Caucus Award.

Regent Sarah Power was a particularly strong advocate for women within the University community and had long been committed to the Academic Women’s Caucus as well as to other groups which espoused the cause of women. In 1988, Regent Philip H. Power graciously consented to allow the caucus to honor Sarah by renaming its award the Sarah Goddard Power Award. Ten years later, in 1998, the President’s Office began funding the award with a stipend for each winner.

The award has been conferred on many distinguished University women who represent all aspects of intellectual endeavor and purposeful action on behalf of women. As the Academic Women’s Caucus enters its 25th year of service and prepares to confer this award for the 70th time in the year 2000, it seems fitting to share with you the importance of the award, and to encourage you to nominate worthy individuals.

One way to highlight the importance of the Award is to share with you some of the perspectives offered by our most recent winners, Christin Carter-Su, professor of physiology, Medical School, and associate director and chief of the Biomedical Research Division, Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center; and Abigail Stewart, professor of psychology and women’s studies, LS&A, and director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender; and by U-M Regent Rebecca McGowan, who conferred the awards on our 1999 winners.

For both awardees, one key to success lies in the importance of a strong support infrastructure provided by family, friends and colleagues, mentors, administrators, Regents, and dedicated staff members. As each of them spoke about these important people in their lives, they also made reference to the visibility factor for themselves and the members of their infrastructure and the role of true mentoring, something the Power Award strives to acknowledge and promote.

From Christin Carter-Su: “The kind of things I do to promote women in science and in academia are not the kinds of things that generally receive public recognition—things like making sure certain women are given fair consideration for jobs and are invited to serve as chairs and speakers; that younger colleagues know the rules of the game and receive honest, thoughtful advice about grants, tenure, departmental and school politics; that women are given strategies for combining work with family and encouragement that it is possible to succeed at both. I think it is important for women to know that no matter what their discipline or job description, there are many ways in which they can support other women and younger colleagues.”

Abigail Stewart also spoke of the importance of infrastructure, colleagues and mentoring, but chose to highlight another critical issue that the Award is designed to address—the inherent conflict women face in the academy.

From Abigail Stewart: “It is I who should be bestowing this award on the amazing community I have found at the University of Michigan, a community that has in fact supported me. That community is first and foremost the academic women at Michigan, especially the faculty in the Women’s Studies Program, who offered me something from the moment I first visited that was extraordinary: a chance to work closely with a group of women faculty and students—with a vision and sense of purpose, a simultaneous commitment to the institution and a critique of it.”

For both these awardees, there is still work to be done.

For Christin Carter-Su, her two daughters “help me keep my perspective on life, and motivate me to continue to work to make science and academia a more viable, attractive career choice for the next generation of women.”

For Abigail Stewart, the challenge lies in continuing to struggle with the conflict between the commitment to and critique of the institution: “Despite the wonderful things I have found here at Michigan, I believe we have a great deal of work to do to make this institution a place where women faculty, students and staff are welcome and thrive.

“This was brought home to me recently when I was asked to write an essay about what it is like to be a ‘feminist psychologist,’ but also in the position of a ‘gatekeeper’ by virtue of the roles of graduate mentor, peer reviewer, editor and senior faculty member. This seems to me to be the sort of paradoxical and complicated position that ‘academic women’ find ourselves in all the time: on the one hand, we are often critiquing and seeking to transform our disciplines, our departments and our institutions, while on the other, we are training our students to survive within them. We must constantly both notice that it is wrong for them to have to survive certain things, and equip them to do so.”

She went on to say that there are “still too many places where people, often women, but also people who feel different by virtue of their race or ethnicity or sexuality, stifle views they feel will be unintelligible, or unacceptable, maybe dangerous to their careers. Because the problems lie in a thousand small exclusions and failures of inclusion, the only solutions lie in a thousand countering acts.”

Over the years of the caucus and the Power Award, progress has been made and Regent Rebecca McGowan gave us a long-term perspective on how the role of women on this campus has shifted.

Speaking of Sarah Goddard Power, she said, “It was really not so long ago that Sarah strode this campus, building the confidence of women to invest in their careers at Michigan, demanding recognition for their manifold successes, complaining when they were left out of any loop, including—if you can believe it—committees!” This picture is a far cry from today. Again, Regent McGowan: “I want to tell you of my view across the Regents’ table now. Directly across from me, I see my friend and Regental classmate Larry Deitch, next to him is Regent Andrea Fischer Newman, next to her is Regent Libby Maynard, next to her is Regent Kathy White, next to her is Provost Nancy Cantor, next to her is Vice President for Development, Susan Feagin, next to her is Vice President for Government Affairs, Cynthia Wilbanks, and next to her, at the foot of the table, is General Counsel Marvin Krislov. It’s a wonderful view!”

The Award Members of the Academic Women’s Caucus have long believed that the true mark of success will be when the caucus and other groups like it are no longer needed, when awards like the Sarah Goddard Power Award no longer need to be bestowed. That is not yet the case, but as we move forward, there are many successes and we strive to recognize and reward the courage, the effort, and the invisible acts of those who have made a difference and changed the picture for women on campus and beyond.

We welcome your nominations for this important award. This deadline for the year 2000 awards is Nov. 19 and submission details are available at