Generations of Ethos Leaders Share Insights about the Group’s History and Significance

Six leaders of Ethos at Wellesley wearing black stand against a black backdrop looking directly at the camera.
Image credit: Timothy Archibald, Saverio Truglia, and Dana Smith
May 22, 2018

This article originally appeared in the spring issue of Wellesley magazine and was written by Hilary Hurd Anyaso ’93, Karen Grigsby Bates ’73, and Ikhlas Saleem ’11.

When Francille Rusan Wilson ’69 arrived on campus in the fall of 1965, she was one of six black freshmen. To say the least, “it was not very diverse,” Wilson says. The six students quickly realized that the College had paired four of them in double rooms. One had requested a single, and Wilson, who was unknowingly part of an “experiment,” was placed with a white roommate, with that student’s parents’ prior approval. “We were concerned about this residential segregation. We talked about it amongst ourselves, and individually, we tried to address it with the administration, to no avail,” Wilson remembers.

In December 1966, Wilson and a small group of like-minded students traveled to New York to attend a black-student conference at Columbia University. A fire was lit. A small cohort of determined women—Wilson, Nancy Gist ’69, Yvonne Smith Madlock ’70, Alvia Wardlaw ’69, Karen Williamson ’69, and others—pledged to confront racism on campus, and Ethos was born. After very public battles with President Ruth Adams’ administration, Ethos effected many important changes: The segregated rooming policy ended, the College pushed to admit more black students to the class of ’73 (57 black students entered in 1969), Harambee House was established as a home base for students of African descent, and black studies became an interdepartmental major.

As Ethos celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Wellesley magazine spoke with Wilson and five past presidents of the group about what the organization meant to them. While the times change—students went from demonstrating in the civil rights movement to pushing the College to divest from South Africa to marching for the Black Lives Matter movement—the need for Ethos has not diminished. Alumnae speak of the relief that came from having Harambee House, a space where they could relax and be with people who understood them, where they didn’t have to explain anything. They all also express gratitude toward the black alumnae who came before them, and hope for those who follow.

The full story can be found on the Wellesley magazine website. Stay tuned for more coverage of the Ethos 50th Anniversary Celebration this fall.

Photo: Past presidents and a founder of Ethos: Dominique Hazzard ’12, Shukri Abdi ’01, Debby Saintil Previna ’96, Alyce Jones Lee ’81, Jill Willis ’73, and Francille Rusan Wilson ’69.