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An Alumna Reflection by Lorna Petrone Ferrara ’73

I couldn’t begin to speak about 50 years of women at Iona without talking about the 60s. It was a decade of enormous social, political and cultural change…characterized by an invasion of all things British—from the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to the ‘mod’ fashions of Carnaby Street. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 saw the U.S. on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. On November 23, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. 0n February 21, 1965, the Black Nationalist, Malcom X, was gunned down by rival Black Muslims. Vietnam loomed ominously in our collective consciousness. In the midst of the Vietnam debacle, we found ourselves at war with each other. The civil rights movement was born in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1961, Freedom Riders rode to Alabama, and in 1963, 250,000 people gathered on the Washington Mall to hear the fiery orator and reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. On April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet found him and silenced his powerful voice. On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated while celebrating his California primary win. In the waning years of the sixties we yearned for peace and love… we began to accept the loosening of the social mores of the fifties that bound us. It was also a time of infinite possibility. We, as a nation, were literally racing to the moon. I, and the women of my generation, became a part of a new movement. It was called feminism, and we became pioneers of another sort. We would change the world.

In September 1969, I was one of about 200 women who would be a part of the first coed class at Iona College. I, too, would be a pioneer. Navigating a campus populated primarily by males was a little like walking on the moon’s surface. That maiden year posed challenges with so few women on campus. The cafeteria was a minefield. Would you rather suffer being given a score for your attractiveness while walking past various team tables, be completely ignored, or find yourself in a sea of unfamiliar faces searching for a place to sit? Slowly, I found my way. My fellow pioneers and I were ready to strive to make a place for ourselves within the Iona community. We joined clubs, we volunteered, we cheered our Gaels on the ice, the field and the court. We joined The Ionian and ICANN staffs and became a part of student government. We were serious about being a part of everything that comprised the college experience.

And then there was my education. Sitting in Brother Coogan’s class, I was smitten both with him and the study of Petrarch. Mr. Russell gave me the gift of Langston Hughes’ poetry. Dr. Daretta’s criticism compelled me to do better. Dr. Barbara Solomon introduced me to writers who were women, and I learned that their stories are our stories. I also learned about civil discourse. When the Vietnam moratorium was declared, all classes were canceled. We exercised our right to assemble on the ‘hill.’ Facts were our ammunition and words were our weapons. We disagreed fervently, passionately, and peacefully. Ideas were exchanged and viewpoints defended.

My time at Iona taught me many things, but what I cherish most are the friendships I made that have endured these fifty years. These women, my friends, have lived lives marked by compassion, altruism, integrity and love. If I had not been part of the 1969 incoming class, I would have never been blessed with these deeply satisfying friendships and my life would’ve been poorer for it.

When I paged through my 1973 yearbook and gazed upon the faces of those young women bright with hope and possibility, I knew that they went on to do great things. They are teachers, accountants, judges, doctors, bankers, administrators, nurses, social workers, scientists, writers, artists and so much more. They are sisters, mothers, grandmothers, wives, and friends. These women, each in their own way, blazed a path for those who would follow. After all, they were pioneers.

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