An Interview with Carol Bellamy '63
Q. Regarding your noon talk on developing global citizens, do you think that liberal arts institutions such as Gettysburg are particularly well suited to the task of producing global citizens? Are they obligated to do so? And how do they balance that demand or obligation with the increased clamoring for an education or degree that will land a good job or a decent living post-graduation?
A. I think it would be wrong to assume that it's just liberal arts colleges that can do that. It's not so much how many degrees or how many different things you've studied in terms of global citizenship. I think it has much more to do with a particular person's engagement with the world and people around him or her and by the world -- that world could be your local community. It's seeing opportunities and growth in differences, rather than fear and distrust in differences. So I do think that liberal arts colleges are well positioned, but I wouldn't argue that that therefore means that a more targeted type of educational environment is not suited to do that.
Frankly, I would argue that the part of American society that understands that best - the need for international experience -- is business, all different kinds of business. I don't think working to produce global citizens should be seen as an add-on or a frill or "Wouldn't that be nice to do in addition to my real education?" To the contrary, I think if anything it strengthens the character and potentially positions the person to be even more competitive in whatever the external market is that that person might be competing in.
Q. I guess I was curious whether liberal arts colleges or universities had particular strengths that would help them in this endeavor?
A. To the extent that there's an environment of broader curiosity and perhaps a little bit more flexibility -- there still needs to be rigor -- then yes, I think that probably is an encouraging and helpful environment in terms of the potential of people having the skill set that allows them to engage more broadly across differences.
Q. Looking at your career and life experiences, you really model what it means to be a global citizen. Did you arrive at Gettysburg with certain seeds already planted? What kind of family background did you have? Were you a big reader? What made you open to that Peace Corps brochure you found in the library on campus? Another person would have put it down and even forgotten they picked it up.
A. My early -- (laughs). I recall so little about my early upbringing. I was a pretty independent sort. I don't mean I ran away from home or anything. Frankly, there's not too much of anything in my early upbringing that did anything for me. I probably started when I came to college. It was nothing bad. I didn't get into trouble or anything like that. Like I said, I was pretty independent.
My parents were hard-working, kind of lower middle-class in terms of economics. Good people. Interestingly, not anti-religious, but not at all religious, partly because they worked so hard, lot of overtime. My father was a telephone installer, my mother a nurse, and they'd throw us at church each Sunday but they didn't attend.
Now later on in life -- my dad died reasonably young -- the church as a community became very important to mother, not as some religious zealot. It just provided friends and so on.
The Peace Corps was by far the most formative for me. I also came of age in the '60s. The time itself was an environment. As I recall, we actually had a mock election on campus -- I hope I'm not making this up -- and I was actually one of a few who voted for Kennedy, although I wasn't at all involved in politics. I mean this was Eisenhower territory. This wasn't Kennedy versus Eisenhower -- this was Kennedy versus]Nixon. I was a little involved in Student Council. I suppose for me it was really again coming to Gettysburg and leaving where I had grown up. That was that first step away. It was small and protected, but it was the first step away. I was more involved here in musical productions. Frankly, it wasn't that I was that engaged in terms of the broader world until again partway through Gettysburg and then into the Peace Corps.
Q. So the Kennedy/Camelot [era] wasn't exactly the catalyst?
A. No, I think it was the catalyst, not just Kennedy/Camelot. I think it was the '60s. It was an environment. The '60s for me -- I mean, all the turmoil and the deaths, it was still a time when every human being seemed to have a notion you can make some kind of a difference, so coming to Gettysburg was a little step away from kind of not having done much different up to that point in my life. Plus the '60s just getting off the ground and then Peace Corps, it all came together and opened my eyes to a bigger world.
I should say my mother was a nurse. My mother was a very important influence on my life, but kind of a more important influence later on in life. But nursing is a very giving profession. That had some impact on me.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit more about your time here on campus? Today the psychology department chair mentioned Prof. Sam Mudd as being a big fan of yours and you were a big fan of his. Are there other professors you really remember?
A. Sam Mudd is the one I really remember, and the music teacher Madame Marie Buddé. I sang in choir. I was very involved. We went on a tour. That actually was my first time out of the country. We went to the Nordic countries - Norway, Sweden, Finland. All three? I can't really remember. That was my first time out of the country, but very protected, very protected. Protected in the sense that how many of us were in the choir. I wasn't on my own.
Q. How do you think that the education you received here has helped you in your life? Have you ever really seen it at work?
A. I partly think of my education here the way I think about my law school education, which is that -- and this is more a reflection back rather than while I was here -- that it's more like creating a little box for you to stand on rather than directing, sending you in a particular direction. In other words, it broadens skills, it gave skills, it identified skills or identified areas that maybe I wasn't interested in, but it wasn't so much that because I studied X here, I did Y. It was more that it made me stronger in some ways and, therefore, I was better positioned to make choices, but it didn't force the choice. And I think that partly going into psychology was because I didn't know and that was pretty broad at that point. A lot of my friends were biology majors who wanted -- women wanted to become teachers -- the options were fewer for women in those days -- and guys wanted to become doctors. That wasn't something I wanted to do.
Q. When you came to Gettysburg, what ideas did you have? What were your aspirations?
A. Let me think. I was first generation. My mother went to nursing school, my father --neither of my parents went to college. My grandparents didn't even have a full secondary education. Both parents had a full secondary education and some beyond that. It was always assumed both my brother and I would go to college. It was never about you'll go to Harvard or wherever. It's you'll go to college, and I don't even know how I ended up at Gettysburg. I suspect it could have been a counselor at my high school who said this is a good school, and I do remember we came and visited. I don't remember visiting any other places. It looked nice and college-y, and that's how I ended up here. So I don't know what other aspirations I had other than I wanted to do well, in part because it cost money and my family didn't have a whole lot of money. I had a little scholarship, but it didn't cover everything. I suppose my aspirations were, I wanted to do well so I wasn't disappointing.
Q. You have written, "I have dedicated my life to helping children attain their dreams of education. I hope never to have to look into a child's eyes and tell her she cannot have the one thing that will help her get ahead." Can you elaborate a bit on why you think education is so important?
A. I don't know that I thought that before I went to UNICEF, but I -- sometimes I do say that if there's only one thing I could do for the rest of my life, it would be devoted to helping girls get an education around the world. There's no silver bullet, but no one thing has greater return on investment than girls' education. I'm not talking about what we think here in this country, like all-girls' school or stuff like that. I'm talking about the fact that the majority of people who predominate in poverty are women and children, that while more children are in school today around the world than ever before, it's still estimated there's 70 to 80 million young people who are of school age who have never ever been to school and about 60 percent of those are girls. And yet we know that if a girl gets just a basic education, she's more likely to grow up to be healthy, her children are less likely to die, she's less likely to be a victim of HIV/AIDS, so the multiplier effect.
I believe passionately that this world is never going to be able to achieve any kind of sustainable economic vitality unless women are more broadly empowered in this world. This is not marching down the street burning bras. It's that women have a role to play. So from literacy to whatever to having latrines at schools all are important. When I was a banker, I'd be asked for good investment advice and it actually wasn't until I got to UNICEF that I actually figured out the best investment is making sure that girls get an education.
Q. Now this may explain why I stumbled across this right-wing commentary.
A. Oh no no no no. (laughter) It came out again this week.
Q. The right-wing press and commentators have tarred you as a "radical feminist" for these very views, in the same camp as that other New York "radical," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (whose husband, incidentally, appointed you Peace Corps director). How, when, and where did your feminist consciousness develop?
A. First of all, as I've often said, unless women are -- and not just as producers of children -- unless women are treated as real human beings in this world and empowered -- not more powerful than men, just empowered to be full participants in their particular society -- as long as that doesn't happen, children will be at risk. And as long as children are at risk, then societies are going to be weak. So I've said many times if being an advocate for recognizing the importance of the role of women as human beings makes me a radical feminist, then I'm glad to stand as a radical feminist. (laughter)
At UNICEF, one focus is children who die before the age of five. Well, there's been improvement in this area, but even now 40 percent of those children who die from preventable causes before the age of five die within the first month, which means it's neo-natal, which means it's not only what you do for the child but what's the condition of the female coming into that pregnancy. Is she beaten? Is she malnourished? Women and girls are being infected with HIV/AIDS at twice the rate of men and boys in Africa not because they're running out doing bad things but because of power relationships. You can't be concerned about the rights of children and ignore the rights of women.
I grew up in the '60s. That was still 70 years after women got the right to vote , but those were the days of the Houston women's meeting in 1977. When I was in law school, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who ultimately went to the Supreme Court, actually argued a very important case before the Supreme Court dealing with gender inequities. And when I was in law school, my law school -- NYU, great law school, I love my law school -- always had a good proportion of women. My class doubled from the previous class. I think we were 20 out of 300. And it wasn't just women. I came of age during the Civil Rights movement. I went to Wall Street and got a job and I think was only the third or fourth woman at Cravath, a big law firm.
I remember taking a client to lunch one day but couldn't get into the Wall Street Club because the one room that women were allowed to be in -- women and men, but the only room that you could also have women in -- was filled, so I was turned away. So it wasn't a particular thing. Interestingly, I mean all the women in my family had worked. My mother had worked, my grandmother had worked, my aunt had worked. My grandmother had cleaned house, my other grandmother had cleaned house. Women in my family had been divorced. It wasn't that somebody in my family was saying "do this." It was the times.
I went into the state senate. There had only been two women in the past that had been in the state senate. When there'd be a discussion around things like day care, the guys would say, "Oh, go talk about that." And I used to say, "I am as equally as competent as you are to talk about insurance. Why can't I talk about insurance? Why can I only talk about day care?"
Q. I'm really struck by how you described your UNICEF experience and you said that if you could devote your life to one thing, it would be making sure that girls got an education and it really strikes me that you are someone who continually has her eyes open. It's not like you went to UNICEF with all the answers, but you took the position and then you figured things out as you went, but in a really good, intelligent way, and I don't know if that seems to be part and parcel of who you are.
A. Sometimes I'm asked, "Was this something what you expected?" and I'm always forever thinking, "Why didn't I study this more before I did it? Wow, it's harder than I thought." I think you try and know, but then I think you can scare yourself. I don't think you ignore; I think you try and learn. I make a distinction between the concept of risking and gambling. To me, gambling is you have no idea and you just shoot the rapids. Risking is you plan ahead, you make sure you have the right boat, you have the right partners in the boat, you get the maps, but you're just not quite sure whether around that one bend, whether that rock is there. So risking means you've got to act, not having absolutely all the pieces in place but you sure put as many pieces in place as you can, as contrasted with gambling. So I believe in risking -- not at everything -- but I believe in being prepared to take risks. Gambling. No no no.
Q. In 2004, Forbes named you one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. Why do you think they put you on the list? Does it coincide with why you would like to be named to such a list?
A. I was coming to the end of my term in UNICEF, and I think I was probably on the list because I think on balance my performance at UNICEF was recognized as reasonably good and reasonably capable performance, so it was a recognition of not just going to UNICEF and being the executive director but having been at UNICEF and generally performed well at UNICEF, which is an important global organization and so therefore there was a track record against which to measure and an evaluation that that was a decent track record.
Q. Was it fulfilling?
A. UNICEF? The ten most interesting, exciting, challenging, wonderful years in my life.
Q. So if they didn't have the two-year term limit?
A. I would have liked to stay a little longer. I sometimes think people can stay a little too long at things. Here's where my political background comes in. I've seen a few too many people kind of riding high in their second term, but about midway through their third term, more often than not, they've stayed too long. I'm not talking about legislators. The legislative side of politics and government can be very interesting. It's just less interesting to me. I'm talking about the executive side, where you actually have to take actions. On the other hand, 10 years is a pretty good run in a senior position.
Q. Much of your work has this moral imperative, which, as we know, does not always move the powers or forces that be. Almost no one would argue that poverty, illiteracy, etc., are good things, and we pretty much know it's not a question of resources. As you pointed out this morning, the whole question of children dying of diarrhea doesn't need a scientific breakthrough. So how can change happen? And what is your role in trying to make that change happen?
A. This is really a hard question, and I've tried to figure it out. I think a lot has to do with leadership. Everybody has to make whatever their contribution is, but I think we have to continue to try to create an environment in which more attention is paid to the quality of leadership -- government leadership, private-sector leadership, civil society leadership. People can engage in ways with impunity in the world today. Wars went on in parts of -- and go on -- in parts of Africa. Meanwhile, the extractive industries keep going on. There's got to be some penalties in some ways for bad behavior, and I don't know how anyone gets to that. It doesn't mean everybody has to be a goody-goody two-shoe. I just think more attention has to be paid to leadership, and then good leadership has to be identified and recognized in some way.
Q. This morning you talked about how you're driven crazy by people with their heart in the right place but they have absolutely no organizational or management skills. You just seem to, for whatever reason, however the stars aligned, to get those two things. You have the Peace Corps experience. You have the Wall Street --
A. But I've seen good -- and again this doesn't mean you have to be cold and bloodless -- I mean I think passion-driven organizations are good, and some of the best managers I've seen are in the public sector. But I've also seen people like -- somebody who's a really good business person go on to a hospital board and then all of a sudden become kind of fuzzy-minded. Well, why take your skills that perhaps was one of the reasons they wanted you to come on the board and forget those skills? Because it's a hospital? Because "Oh, it's a hospital"? If anything, you know, you're trying to keep people alive.
Q. You have traveled to third- and what some would call fourth-world countries and areas. You've seen it, and you know that you're not going to wake up tomorrow and it's all gone. Do you struggle with that?
A. I don't struggle with it. I mean you wish things -- one of the things I'm not good at is being patient, to a fault actually. Maybe I should be more discouraged. You do see some change, and as I've said, at least when you're working generally with younger people. I don't mean everybody's wonderful, and I don't mean everyone has little smile buttons on, but I mean there's a little bit more potential for people being open ...