The four recipients of this year's Sarah Lawrence College Alumnae/i Citation for Achievement have all followed a path of public service, their contributions to society making a difference in countless lives. They will be honored at a luncheon during the College's 2002 reunion on Saturday, June 8.
The four recipients are Dr. Ann Barnet, founder of The Family Place, a parenting support center for families in Washington D.C., Janet Rosenwald Becker, housing advocate and leader in establishing housing and health care trust funds for the City of St. Louis, Elise Bernhardt, founder of Dancing in the Streets and Executive Director of The Kitchen in New York City, and Catherine Muther, founder and president of the San Francisco- based Three Guineas Fund, which promotes social justice by expanding access to economic opportunity for women and girls.
Ann Birnbaum Barnet
A firm believer in the role that human relationships and environmental stimuli play in intellectual, emotional and moral development, Ann Barnet, a physician, has stepped out from the lab, office and classroom to put her convictions at the service of society. In 1980 she founded Family Place, Inc., a resource and support center for lower-income families in Washington D.C. She remains its president, overseeing an organization that provides counseling, education, skill development programs and referrals to some of the most vulnerable members of society - the disadvantaged and their young children.
Dr. Barnet has also written and published on the many factors that influence and drive infant brain development, and on how the quality of parenting and care-giving of the very young work for good, or not good, both for the children concerned and for society as a whole. The Youngest Minds, which she wrote with her husband, Richard, is a scientific treatise as well as a demonstration of the critical need for healthy, nurturing and compassionate childcare.
Barnet's public efforts on behalf of children and families have been complemented by her work as a doctor and teacher. She taught neurology at George Washington University School of Medicine, where she is now Professor Emeritus. She is also a pediatrician and specialist in child neurology at Children's Hospital, in Washington, where she founded the EEF research and Evoked Response Laboratory.
"As a physician, scientist, writer and champion of families and children, as well as parent and grandparent, Ann Barnet has seen, and studied from every angle, the myriad relationships and other natural forces that converge in infancy and childhood. Her scholarship, dedication and caring are pure, deeply insightful and proactive in their approach to problem-solving, and worthy of our gratitude and admiration," reads the citation she will receive.
Janet Rosenwald Becker
Janet Becker has devoted her life to humanitarian causes. Even as a teen, in her native Philadelphia, she participated in inner-city volunteer work. Her years at Sarah Lawrence, during which she was a volunteer with the NAACP and met such Civil Rights figures as Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins, served to define what became her life's work: helping people find dignity through decent housing and racial justice.
Becker moved to St. Louis in 1953, and has never left. She began by volunteering with Freedom of Residence, a fair housing group, later joining its board of directors.
A dozen years' involvement with the League of Women Voters, at both city and state levels, was perfect preparation for Becker's post as community liaison for Missouri State Senator Harriet Woods. For seven years she managed requests to the senator's office from Missourians for assistance and information.
In 1979 she co-founded the Ecumenical Housing Production Corporation - now called Beyond Housing - which helps families find places to live and decent schools, and offers job training, parenting classes and even guides to children's summer camps. In 1987 she helped establish Adequate Housing for Missourians, active in both the political and grass-roots arenas in fighting for housing for low-income families. She was AHM president for three years. She has been involved with numerous other housing organizations.
Becker has worked on drafting federal legislation to create a nationwide housing trust fund, and with the National Low Income Housing Coalition, where she served on the board and executive committee.
A listing of Becker's work "is too long for this document, and too slim to illustrate her extraordinary, selfless dedication to the most basic human rights of fairness, shelter and the opportunity to live in dignity," reads her citation.
A choreographer who counted legendary dance faculty member Bessie Schönberg as a mentor and friend, Elise Bernhardt has always thought big when it comes to staging dances. The Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, the Coney Island Boardwalk and other world-famous sites have been both backdrop and performance space for Berhandt's dancers.
In 1983 Elise founded the production company Dancing in the Streets, dedicated to presenting contemporary and repertory work to large audiences in public places. It was a way to bring art to great numbers of people and at the same time help to kick-start the revitalization of surrounding communities. Bernhardt produced performances by some of the most galvanizing artists of our time, including Merce Cunningham, Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. She also created a special fund to support other artists wanting to stage open-air performances.
Since 1985 Bernhardt has been a member of the Bessie committee (named for Schönberg), which annually presents the New York Dance and Performance Awards (better known as "Bessies").
In 1998 Bernhardt became executive director of The Kitchen, an experimentation and performance space for artists in dance, film, literature, music and multi-media. In a time when the arts are searching for fresh ways to fulfill their age-old role of creating expressions and explanations of the world, Bernhardt is reaching out to find new artists with new ideas in new media - and bringing their work to new audiences. Her community outreach efforts and programs for student artists will help assure a next generation of creators and performers, and of audiences that derive energy, joy and enlightenment from the arts.
Bernhardt "personifies the Sarah Lawrence student who dreams big and accomplishes bigger," reads her citation. "All along the way, she has supported, employed and promoted fellow Sarah Lawrence graduates, and been a warm, enthusiastic and unflagging booster of the College. Elise understands the role of art - whether in downtown New York City or halfway around the world - and its power to spark imagination and foster community. The future of art is in the hands of people like Elise Bernhardt."
Sarah Lawrence is a place that encourages initiative and discovery, and Cate Muther is an ideal example of how these can find fruition again and again in life after college. From studying dance at SLC and anthropology at Cambridge, to pursuing careers in business and then philanthropy, Muther has always trusted her instincts and let her initiative guide her. The result has been both personal success and an example for other professional women to follow.
When Muther realized that management held greater allure than anthropological research, she headed to Stanford, earning her M.B.A. in 1978. Her first job was consulting with a federal program for minority owned companies. Then she left to enter the brave new world of Silicon Valley.
As marketing officer at Bridge Communications, 3-Com and finally Cisco Systems, Muther was part of the technology vanguard of the 1980's and early 90's. She was a natural at marketing, and the growth and success of the companies she worked for are a testament to her gifts. In her five years at Cisco, the company completed an IPO and annual revenue grew from $25 million to more than $1 billion. She also blazed a trail for women in technology; the chairman of Cisco crediting her with raising awareness of gender issues at the executive level.
While at Cisco, Muther put together a gift to Stanford to help bring more female faculty members to the school. When she left the company in 1994, it was to embark on a new journey: philanthropy. Drawing on her business background and technology experience, she established the Three Guineas Fund, which supports educational and professional opportunity for girls and women and helps nurture start-ups with female principals. At least a dozen companies helped by Three Guineas have grown up and left the nest.
Muther has served in leadership capacities for numerous organizations dedicated to helping women achieve social and professional equality and fulfillment - including Sarah Lawrence, where she was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1991 to 1992 and 1995 to 1999. She is also a member of the leadership council of the National Network of Women Philanthropists, and was a presenter at the 1999 White House Conference on Philanthropy.
"Cate is a wonderful example of the Sarah Lawrence ethos of seeking challenge and discovery, and of pursuing initiative as far as it will go, even on to unmapped terrain," notes the citation.