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Sarah Power, 1974

Diversity Legacy

"We worked side by side in a little office that was over the Michigan Theater."

by Jan Schlain

From the March, 2021 issue

Barbara Tucker was then U-M regent Sarah Power's sole staffer for many years, and became so devoted to her boss that she named her daughter after her. But when they first met in the mid 1970s, they got off on the wrong foot.

Tucker had been assigned to tend bar at a regents' gathering, and "Sarah thought it was unseemly to have a woman serving drinks," Tucker recalls. "So she went back to the secretary of the regents ... and said, 'what the heck's going on?'"

A woman tending bar was a novelty for the patrician Grosse Pointe native and graduate of Vassar College and the Alliance Francaise. But Power also had a master's degree in politics and international relations from NYU and had worked for liberal New York politicians Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay. "It was pointed out to her that that was kind of an odd position for someone who was a feminist, and so she backtracked on it," Tucker says. Power ended up hiring Tucker to work her own Christmas party. When Power's assistant left in 1977, Tucker took over.

"She was always vibrant and dedicated and funny and really hardworking," Tucker recalls. And "she became very aware of the really bad record U-M had on granting tenure to women."

Power became a forceful advocate for opening up the system. The website of CEW+ (formerly the Center for the Education of Women) quotes her as saying, "I want us to create reasonable options for all human beings, women and men. I want us to ensure the individual rights by which all persons can develop their potential." It was Power who suggested that the Women's Academic Caucus give an annual award to people who made important contributions to the cause.

"And that's why when she died they named it after her," Tucker says. Suffering from depression, Power jumped from Burton Tower in 1987. Afterward, says Tucker, "I closed out her papers, got them to

...continued below...

the Bentley, and I was done."

But it turned out she wasn't. Tucker is still telling people about Power's legacy. She was one of the speakers in February, when the caucus gave its 2021 Sarah Goddard Power Award and the Rhetaugh G. Dumas Progress in Diversifying Award at an online ceremony hosted by the CEW+.

CEW+ director Tiffany Marra is "trying to revive Sarah's legacy," says Tucker. This year's Power Award recognized psychology and 'Afro-american and African Studies prof Isis Settles, engineering prof Dawn Tilbury, U-M chief organizational learning officer Sonya Jacobs, and Ellen Judge-'Gonzalez, who directs the SOAR program for nontraditional returning adult learners.

Rhetaugh Dumas was a champion of women of color and the first African-American to be named a dean at U-M--she led the School of Nursing for three terms in the 1980s and 1990s. This year's Dumas Award recognized the School of Information for its successful efforts to increase diversity; according to the CEW+ website, "of ten faculty promoted to tenured Associate Professor in the past five years, three are underrepresented minorities and five are women."

A chart at illustrates how much the faculty has changed. In 1979 four out of five tenured faculty were white men and about one in eight were white women; African Americans and other underrepresented minorities made up less than 8 percent.

By 2019, white men were less than half the total. The percentages of white women and underrepresented minority women doubled, as did underrepresented minority men. African American men and women--scarcely visible in 1979--quadrupled. While there wasn't a single female dean in 1979, now there are six.

Tucker had dropped out of a U-M journalism program just short of a degree because of mounting debt and family obligations. With Power's support, she completed it, and after her boss's death, she went on to work for Charles Eisendrath's Michigan Journalism Fellows program. But she never forgot Powers.

"The role [Sarah] played in my life was to open my eyes to how women can succeed professionally but also leveraging the strengths that women have traditionally possessed, which are empathy, understanding, kindness, and a sort of resourcefulness in human interaction," Tucker says.

"Sarah used her considerable influence to make the world better, not for people of privilege, as indeed she was, but for all the underrepresented--women and minorities--who have so much to contribute and who are passed over because of historical inequality," Tucker said at the February ceremony. "Sarah Power and Rhetaugh Dumas helped the world understand that expanding opportunity for more people is not like dividing a pie into ever smaller pieces. They helped create the understanding that everyone prospers when opportunity is expanded to all."

The awards, Tucker says, are "in one way a celebration of the people who win it," and "in another way a celebration of those they're named after. But it's also an exhortation and an invitation to follow their lead, to ... continue the work. That, to me, is the legacy."


from Calls & Letters, April 2021

"Correction required," Ellen McKeown emailed when she saw our Inside Ann Arbor article on U-M diversity awards ("Diversity Legacy," March). We'd written that "there wasn't a single female dean in 1979." In fact, McKeown wrote out, there was one: "My mother, Joan S. Stark, was the 1st woman dean at the University of Michigan." Dean Stark ran the School of Education from 1978 to 1983.     (end of article)

[Originally published in March, 2021.]


On March 12, 2021, Kathy Fojtik Stroud wrote:
I knew and appreciated Sarah Power. Sarah Power! Thank you for reminding us of her many contributions.

One unnoticed contribution is that she helped pay the way for N.O. W. Activists to make one last ditch effort to pass the ERA in Utah in 1980. I'm not sure of the exact dates, but she supported us.

Thanks, Sarah, for your belief in the future.

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