Professor Kristin Lambert from the School of Social Work is among a cadre of female faculty members in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences whose work and teaching has scattered them across continents. As part of the month that celebrates the contributions of women trailblazers, one needs to look no further than a group of PhD-toting and Master-holding scholars.
As a social worker, Lambert once worked with a client from Somalia who was a survivor of torture. “She had been beaten so badly that it had broken most of her teeth and when she had arrived here her teeth were rotting and causing a lot of pain,” Lambert recalls. She helped organize her dental care and, because she was a refugee, she had Medicaid, which would pay to pull out her teeth, but not for dentures. “She was going to be 45 and without teeth and I was overwhelmed and looked at her and said: What are you going to do without your teeth? She looked at me and said ‘Oh Kris, I’ll just drink a lot of milkshakes.'”
Lambert says the exchange is “something I will always carry with me as a reminder of the woman’s ability to use humor in that very difficult circumstance.”
Getting the Degree
To be sure, most scholars are not born overnight. Just ask professor of history Leslie Hadfield. After completing a bachelor’s degree in history and a study-abroad program in South Africa, she sought an opportunity that would provide her with both additional education and the opportunity to remain engaged with African issues. Initially, she planned on attending a master’s program while getting linguistic training in Swahili so she could land a job with the government. But, after spending two years to finish her master’s degree, Hadfield was at a crossroads.
“At the end of my Masters’ I had also applied for PhD programs, [but then] I actually decided I didn’t want to do a Phd. I was tired of school. And then I got into these two programs,” Hadfield says. One of them was at Michigan State, where she ultimately chose to go because of its superior program. After her first year she was confident that this was right for her.
“The first year went pretty quickly. Dean Ben Ogles…had said to me once: “If it’s what you need to do, to do what you want to do, then put in the time. What is a few years to get where you want to be?” I think somebody said that to him when he was working on his PhD. “Why let those few years, put you away from something you want to do?”
Climbing the Ranks
Hadfield is a part of a steady but growing number of women scholars at BYU. “I feel very grateful for the women who came before me here and at other places of academia. Since I came, we definitely hired more women in our history department, but there had already been a cohort here before,” Hadfield explains. “There were two women who retired recently and they had been here for a while. I think they fought some battles that made it a lot easier for me as a professor to be here…as a woman.”
Her fellow colleague and historian, Karen Carter, says that when she was a Master’s student at BYU, there were probably two or three female faculty members. Now, they have eight members. She says she would not have gone on to acquire a PhD without some encouragement. “It was really the encouragement of my male professors who wanted more diversity on the faculty,” Carter says. “They wanted more female colleagues because that’s the way the field is going. There are many more women involved in academia and there just wasn’t any here at BYU.”
Lambert says that Dr. Jini Roby from the School of Social Work inspired her to become a social worker during her undergraduate experience at BYU. Social work is a field started by women. Historically, it yields a high percentage of women. The first social workers were women.
“Social work in general has a history of strong capable women who use their skills and talents to help. A social worker could be a therapist, community organizer, or policy worker. Social work differs from a college such as marriage and family therapy because we help on all levels not only just with the individual and the family but the communities and neighborhoods, legal policy and how that all influences an individual’s ability to achieve their potential.”- Kristin Lambert
Professor of Sociology Renata Forste says she also benefited from good mentors and that she finds the greatest joy through mentoring students. She is part of the Women’s Studies program at BYU which offers students a minor. Someone she admires and teaches about in an introductory course is a woman named Leymah Gbowee from Liberia who won the 2011 Nobel Peace prize. She organized a peace movement and organized women to end the Liberian Civil War. They did so in a nonviolent way. “I am so impressed with women when they organize and pool together–they can literally end a war. They can change society for the better,” Forste says.