The Miller-Ward Alumni House provided the backdrop, while two
armchairs and a dimmed table light created the ambiance. Accompanied
by two steaming cups of coffee, Jan Gleason and Karen Salisbury
provided the intimate conversation.
It looked to be the perfect setting for an impromptu exchange between
old friends—and it was that, in a way, just with 80 other
friends listening in.
They were the fourth pair to participate in the Women’s Center’s
annual “Telling Our Stories” event, held Tuesday, Sept.
10. Gleason, associate vice president for Public Affairs, and Salisbury,
assistant dean for Campus Life and director of Student Activities,
both have been at Emory since 1985.
They started their stories with childhood reflections. Salisbury,
a Minnesota native, grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs in the “perfect
little house” with her parents, sister, brother and dog. Gleason
grew up on 80 acres in rural Michigan with her parents and older
sister. The two self-confessed tomboys spent a large part of their
youth outside, climbing trees and playing softball.
It was during childhood when both said they were exposed to stereotypical
gender roles—something they didn’t like or agree with.
During the summers, Salisbury said her mother would assign everyday
household chores to her and her siblings. While she and her sister
would iron and clean inside, her brother was outside mowing the
lawn or cleaning the garage.
“We had to iron and clean the shutters in the bathroom; that’s
because we were the girls, and we had to do those ‘girls’
projects,” Salisbury said. “There were clearly things
[my brother] could do and things we had to do.”
Gleason said her first bout with stereotyped roles came on the playground
in grade school. To climb the monkey bars, students had to wear
pants or shorts, but the school dress code said girls had to wear
a skirt or dress every day. So, Gleason wore pants or shorts under
the required skirts.
“For the next seven years of elementary school, I had two
waistbands on,” she said. “To me, it was like, ‘Wait
a minute, this really stinks.’ Let me wear pants so I can
get on the monkey bars, or let me get up there with a skirt on.”
Both said they never let gender stereotypes stand in their way,
citing constant encouragement from their families to overcome such
roadblocks. After high school, Gleason graduated from Albion College
in Michigan and received her master’s degree in public relations
from Syracuse University in 1981. She came to Emory in 1985 as editor
of Emory Report. Since then, she has been director of News
& Information and vice president for University Communications
before being appointed to her current position. Gleason has chaired
both the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and
the advisory board of the Emory Women’s Center. She and her
husband, Jeff, have three children: Tyler, 14, and Corbin and Caity,
Salisbury is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and received
her master’s degree in counseling and student development
from Central Connecticut State University. Since coming to Emory,
she has served as assistant director for Student Activities, director
of University Conferences and coordinator for the Olympics at Emory.
Salisbury and her partner, Roger Palys, have three dogs and a cat,
and she is an active volunteer with Special Olympics.
Aside from their experiences in the higher education field, the
two logged hours working in factories in their teens. Salisbury
worked in an Illinois factory where she put the tops on cans of
Dr. Scholl’s foot spray, rising to the rank of foreman, while
Gleason worked in the Kellogg’s cereal factory in Battle Creek,
Mich., in various departments (raisin reclaim, quality control and
“Once you’ve been in a factory, you see things differently,”
Gleason said, with Salisbury
nodding in agreement.
In closing, the women encouraged the audience to tell their own
stories to each other because of the unique perspective it offers.
Or, Salisbury added, have someone close tell your story from their
standpoint, which she did with her mother. Prior to the event, Salisbury
asked her mother to tell her Salisbury’s story from her perspective.
In return, she received a two-page, handwritten letter detailing
her life and how important she was to her mother.
“It brought me to tears,” Salisbury said. “I think
that letter was the most significant thing I’ve ever had,
and I will cherish it to the day that I die.”