Candler alumnae recall triumphs and challenges of seminary life
Alumnae of the Candler School of Theology gathered in Cannon Chapel on Oct.
23 as part of Candler's Women's Week to tell their stories as theology students
and discuss some of the challenges they encountered.
Four women involved in the ministry, all of whom attended Candler in the
1970s, detailed their individual experiences at Candler and beyond, highlighting
some of the challenges and triumphs they encountered as women in a predominantly
male student population at the time.
Claiburne Jones, who is currently a pastor, recalled how "the only
women's room at Candler had a urinal in it." On a more serious note,
she remembered one inspirational class called "Women and Ministry,"
taught by a Presbyterian minister named Nell Morton. "She blew a lot
of my assumptions," Jones said. "She talked about Jesus and how
he responded to women; she said she `wasn't sure that Jesus was a man.'"
Overall, Jones said the professors at Candler were "supportive and
wonderful," but pointed out that there were no tenured women on the
faculty at Candler until 1978.
Toni White '74T, who was formerly the chaplain at Columbia College and is
now on leave from Southern Methodist University to raise her granddaughter,
said two things surprised her about her experience: "People would say
to me, `You aren't going to preach, are you?' and `This must be a good place
to find a good Christian husband.'" One of White's main issues in theology
school was the sexist language used. One day, the female students in her
class took apples to class "in honor of Eve, and every time a sexist
phrase or word was used--say, mankind instead of humankind--we'd all take
Susan Bishop '75T, chaplain at Georgia's Metro State Prison for women, said
her story dovetailed with White's because "she wasn't aware that she
was stepping into a predominantly male environment." After the
incident with the apples, she said "a good male friend of mine wouldn't
talk to me for two weeks." A turning point in her life as a theology
student came when she attended a conference in the winter of 1973 where
all the attendees were women. "Something about the experience tapped
into who I was," she said. "It was a turning point in my seminary
Martha Randall '81T, who is a pastor at a church in inner city Atlanta,
said she "was surprised to run into female discrimination at Candler;
before, I'd always been concerned with racism." She was also surprised
at how difficult her courses were, but she "had a good time at Candler
and took advantage of her experiences there." One of her most memorable
encounters came with a professor who blatantly refused her ample presentation
time; when she confronted the professor directly in front of the class,
the students stood up and applauded.
Near the end of the semester, she was called in for a meeting with the dean,
who said the professor had recommended that Randall receive an F in the
course. After Randall told the dean about the confrontation, he called for
a three-way meeting about the situation. When the professor angrily refused
to the meeting, he said the dean could give Randall whatever grade he wanted.
The dean promptly gave Randall an A and sent her on her way. "Though
racism exists, it cannot rule us if we are willing to stand up for ourselves,"
to the November 4, 1996 contents page