In February of this year, I flew to Boston to teach for a month, mainly in the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Teaching in the GSD was a lot more intensive than Australian postgraduate planning education; the students were also an international and multicultural bunch.
The privileged Harvard student body I had witnessed in the 1960s (visiting from New Haven) was nowhere be seen.
At Tufts University, I gave a class to their planning students on community visioning, using my model called “Heartstorming”. I also gave a colloquium on “NIMBY psychology”. At MIT, I spoke to planning students about the forces that influenced my career as a social planner and my passion for community engagement. At the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, I gave a lecture on “NIMBY psychology”, unpacking the deeper reasons behind people’ s negative responses to proposed housing density increases.
In the 1960s…
In the 1960s, I was what was called a “Yale Wife”, living in New Haven, Connecticut, in my early twenties with my Yale postgraduate student husband. It was a demeaning term (Yale College was not co-ed at that time). Wives were “non-persons”, attractive and empty-headed “appendages” in those days. Even at Yale. And that’s how I saw myself, having no real professional direction.
The first female planning student in South Australia
When I began studying planning at Adelaide University in 1971, I was the only woman in my postgraduate course. Even though I held two degrees, I had to do an “admission assignment” that no other applying student was required to do. (I did it.)
My then husband (an academic) was asked to sign an affidavit stating that he had not helped me with it. (He signed it.)
When I topped the planning course in the second year, the Adelaide News sent around a photographer, who asked me to pose in the kitchen, stirring a pot, to show I was still a “real woman”. (I refused.)
I have been an academic off and on over the past three decades. But always life has intervened and kept me from a full-time academic career. In 1978, I left a tenure-track academic position in Adelaide to seek my fortune in California following the break-up of my first marriage and my enduring heartbreak. I ended up teaching at Berkeley for two years.
Train to New Haven
One frosty February day, during my time at Harvard this year, I took a morning train to New Haven.
It was time to check out the chapel where I’d married my “Yale Man” 50 years before. (It was being repaired so I could not view the scene of the crime.)
I visited the Yale Library and spent afternoon in the Archives, marveling that I’d had to sneak into the library through a back door to use the stacks as I was not allowed in (as a “Yale Wife”).
A walk through deep snow along icy footpaths led me to the apartment building where we’d lived as students in the mid-sixties and it looked exactly the same. After 50 years! Imagine!
The world’s best pizza
Before I caught the train back to Boston, I devoured the best pizza of my life in our old haunt, Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria, still operating after 80 years.
The waiter chuckled when I explained I’d traveled 17,500 miles and waited nearly 50 years for my dinner! (That was heaps better than seeing inside the chapel!)
Spending a month at Harvard and lecturing at Tufts and MIT was a real thrill. No longer a “Yale Wife”, I was speaking about my own work as a practitioner.
It had been a long journey.
And it felt marvelous.