“I just kept walking through doors,” said Executive Director of the Yale Alumni Association Weili Cheng ’77 about her time at Yale, speaking about her experiences in the sixth Yale College graduating class that included women.
Cheng made the statement at a Pierson College Tea on Wednesday in the head of college house. The event was held on Wednesday in recognition of the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Yale College and included the dedication of a tree and bench in honor of the anniversary. Immediately following the dedication, Cheng and Anne Keating ’77, founder of executive recruiting firm Fraser Keating Associates, spoke about their experiences as some of the first women to attend the college.
“It’s been 50 years and people don’t know what has happened before,” Cheng said, referencing that many current students are not aware of the relatively short amount of time women have been allowed to attend Yale.
Cheng and Keating — who once lived in the same entryway — explained that they had very different paths to Yale. While Cheng grew up in Hawaii and applied to Yale “for fun,” Keating was raised with the expectation that she would one day be a Bulldog, despite women not being allowed to apply at the time of her birth.
Cheng recounted amusing stories of other students streaking across Old Campus, and Keating reminisced about her three varsity sports seasons per year. They also reflected on the challenges they faced as some of the first women at Yale. When Keating enrolled, there were 17 varsity sports for men, but only five for women.
Still, she spoke about the camaraderie among women during this time.
“There were so few of us and we were fighting for the same thing … not just resources but recognition,” Keating said.
She also acknowledged how far Yale has come, and gave a shout out to members of the women’s lacrosse team — which she played on — who were in attendance.
When asked to give advice to current and future generations of women at Yale, Cheng said that throughout her career she has continually asked herself one question: “Will I regret not going through the door?” She encouraged herself and audience members to keep walking through doors and “not to worry so much,” because everything works out in the end.
Keating joining added that while that was true, she would tell her college self that she should not “start off pre-med.” She explained that she was planning on becoming a doctor, before ultimately majoring in a humanities field.
The tea was the third in a series of events Pierson College is holding this year with Pierson alumnae who were part of the first mixed gender classes at Yale. These events were designed to give college alumnae a platform to share their experiences with current members of Pierson and the Yale community more broadly, said Emily Yankowitz ’17 GRD ’24, head of the Pierson Women at 50 Committee.
Before Cheng’s talk, members of the Pierson community braved frigid temperatures to dedicate the tree and bench to Yale women in the courtyard.
“This tree and bench will change the landscape of the college as part of our collective commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Pierson College Head Steven Davis.
In his dedication speech, Davis shared the long road to the dedication of the tree and bench, from the formation of the Pierson Women at 50 committee to head groundskeeper Joe Signore’s hand selection of the tree, a Japanese Enkianthus perulatus. Its pure white, bell-shaped flowers in spring are followed in autumn by brilliant red and yellow leaf colors, he explained.
Marissa Sanghvi ’20 — who is a member of the Pierson Women at 50 committee — said that the tree was of great significance because of its ability to weather and grow despite the harsh elements and its ability to “leave a mark long after our time at Yale is over.” She added that like the tree, the mark of the first female cohorts at Yale will live on for generations.
The first female Yale students matriculated at the School of Fine Arts in 1869.
Brooke Alviar | email@example.com
Correction, Nov. 14: A previous version of this article stated that Cheng and Keating were roommates. In fact, they lived in the same entryway but did not share a room.
Clarification, Nov. 14: The article has been updated to more accurately reflect Cheng’s comments about streaking.