A Community of Seven Sisters

A sophomore organizes a conference and comes away with lasting connections

By Andrew Palmer

When Angela Beam ’18 was preparing for college, she visited more than 20 schools. Barnard was the last stop. In San Antonio, where she grew up, “Women’s colleges just weren’t on the radar,” she says. But she knew she wanted to attend an urban liberal arts college with rigorous academics and a diverse population. When she visited Barnard she was struck by the students’ passion and engagement.

Now, women’s colleges are more than just on her radar; Beam is president of the Seven Sisters Student Coordinating Board, which aims to strengthen ties between members of this consortium of elite women’s colleges.

Photograph by Dorothy Hong

Last November, she organized the annual Seven Sisters Conference, which brought together more than 60 student delegates from colleges that were historically for women only—Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar (now co-ed), and Wellesley (Radcliffe has been absorbed into Harvard)—to participate in workshops relating to this year’s theme, “Advancing Women’s Education Globally.”

“I know it sounds cheesy, but I really believe that graduates from women’s colleges have a greater potential to change the world,” says Beam, pointing to accomplished women such as Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Zora Neale Hurston ’28, and Gloria Steinem. “I want to do everything in my power to preserve and promote the coalition,” she says. “A big part of that is allowing a broader array of the coalition’s student bodies to have knowledge of and access to the network.”

To that end, one of Beam’s main objectives for the conference was to begin rewriting the Student Coordinating Board’s constitution, which hadn’t been revisited in several years. The constitution formalizes communication between student governments of Seven Sisters members, with the goal of orchestrating multi-college academic, cultural, and social activities.

“Communication is one of my strengths,” says Beam, noting the high volume of e-mails and phone calls necessary to organize an event on the scale of the conference. She began planning in July, reaching out to potential speakers and delegates, reserving rooms, arranging catering, and putting together information packets for participants. Attendees participated in workshops including “Bystander Intervention,” offered by Well Woman, and “Who Do You Want To Be? Where Do You Want To Go?: Getting to Gravitas,” presented by the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. In a discussion moderated by Beam, seven alumnae from varying professions reflected on their experiences at women’s colleges and the impact on their career trajectories. Beam says she came away feeling newly connected to her Seven Sisters peers, and enjoyed watching connections form between conference participants. Her hope is that these students, as leaders on their respective campuses, will transfer some of that sense of connectedness to the larger student body.

This isn’t the first time Beam has embraced a leadership position. She was student-body president her senior year of high school, and at Barnard she’s the Student Government Association representative for college relations. Two internships—one with New York senator Charles Schumer and one with New York congresswoman Carolyn Maloney—have informed her work in student government. For Maloney, Beam helped resolve constituent problems, dealing with such issues as veterans’ rights and healthcare. “One of the best parts about working for the congresswoman was the enormous responsibility interns were granted,” says Beam. “I was in a position to make a genuine impact on constituents’ lives.”

While the exact course of Beam’s future is still taking shape, she plans to major in political science with an eye toward a career in politics or law. “I’m most happy when I’m working toward something bigger than myself.” One of the great things about the Seven Sisters Conference, she adds, was that it brought her into contact with other students who share that passion. “When you have a group of students who are really excited about that,” says Beam, “we can do so much.” •