When she stepped onto the Andover campus in 1980, Kathleen Dalton, Instructor in History and Social Science, immediately made it her priority to address the issue of gender inequality. She fought to install the first gender studies course and lobbied for the recruitment of more female teachers. Her husband, Tony Rotundo, a former Instructor of History and Social Science, had a crucial role in the formation of the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD), serving as Associate Dean in the early 1990s. This Friday, both Dalton and Rotundo are receiving the 2015 McKeen Award for their dedication to improving the climate of gender within the Andover community.
The McKeen Award, created in 1998 by the Brace Center for Gender Studies, honors members of Phillips Academy who have worked diligently toward eliminating social and institutional barriers within the student and faculty bodies. The award is given in honor of previous Headmistress of Abbot Academy, Philena McKeen, in remembrance of her efforts to establish an academic community in which all young women could thrive.
“We have been actively involved in all sorts of gender issues ever since we got to [Andover]… There are some very fundamental ways things have changed and I think students now take [that] for granted,” Dalton said.
Together, Dalton and Rotundo worked to make gender a bigger topic of discussion on campus. They helped to establish the Brace Center in 1996 and then served as co-directors for seven years.
“We were both on the executive board of the Brace Center for pretty much all the years we weren’t directing it. At this point, that would be around 10-12 years,” said Rotundo.
Dalton arrived in 1980 and began her work assisting the recruitment of new faculty and achieving the school’s goal of equal gender representation.
“It was largely a boys school that merged with Abbot Academy. So in the 70s, there were a lot of issues people had to work on in terms of girls’ bathrooms, overt sexism and spirit in terms of what kind of school we wanted to create… There were a lot of equity and inclusion issues that had to be addressed,” said Dalton.
Dalton described how shortly after merging with Abbot Academy in the 1970s, 60 percent of the student population was male and only 40 percent was female. The faculty was 75 percent male and 25 percent female.
“I spoke with the trustees about why it was important to change the composition of the student body so that it was closer to equal… I helped to push the school to fire faculty who sexually harassed students… I lobbied the Head of School to do more hiring of women faculty,” said Dalton.
In addition to working with the trustees and the Head of School, Dalton worked closely with students to help empower women leaders. To do this, she collaborated with Rebecca Sykes, the 2014 recipient of the McKeen Award and Andover’s former Associate Head of School.
“I assisted [Rebecca Sykes] in her guidance of the Girls’ Leadership Project. We worked with a really outstanding group of girls thinking about running for office on campus and trying for different kinds of leadership roles and taking themselves seriously,” said Dalton.
Alongside Dalton, Rotundo was involved in the establishment and improvement of CAMD at Andover. He worked closely with members of the school community to discuss gender in combination with race, class and sexual orientation.
“I worked on an educational program for the faculty about transgender [issues]… I worked with groups of boys and male faculty, trying to improve the climate of gender from the direction of male students and teachers,” said Rotundo.
Outside his work at Andover, Rotundo studied the history of gender in great depth, compiling his research into his book, “American Manhood: Transitions in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era.”
“My academic work was about [the] history of manhood, particularly white manhood in the United States. I helped to create what is now considered a significant subfield of history and in particular, gender history,” said Rotundo.
Dalton and Rotundo’s work has been significant within the Andover community, igniting numerous conversations surrounding sexuality and gender roles.
“There is a much greater awareness of gender issues and how they affects our female students, our male students, our transgender students, even our faculty as well… There’s also a much greater awareness of the intersection of gender with race, class [and] sexuality,” said Rotundo.
“Finally, we have a lot of really good courses that deal with gender… I think a whole lot more people are discussing gender so we are delighted that it has turned out this way because it could have gone backward,” said Dalton.
Despite the positive changes that have been made in the Andover community, Dalton and Rotundo believe there is still room for improvement.
“I think we need to do a lot of work about sexual decision making and hook-up culture; there is a lot of pressure to be sexually active before kids are really ready. I [also] think people still have the male model as the model of leadership… I think a lot of kids are very traditional in their attitudes towards gender,” said Dalton.
“There is a percentage of the faculty who might not have ever thought about gender. This is an issue because there are a variety of kids on campus who think about gender a lot and are either trying to come to terms with their sexual identities or questioning very traditional pressures,” said Rotundo.
Rotundo started his teaching career here at Andover in 1981 and retired in 2014. Dalton is soon to follow in his footsteps; having taught here since 1980. She plans to retire at the end of this academic year.
“They are academic giants, and they were bringing particular kinds of expertise to the school. I worry about what kind of institutional memory is lost when these two leave…They are scholars, they are friends, they are intellectuals. It’s a great loss,” said Tasha Hawthorne, Instructor in English and Co-Director of the Brace Center, in an interview with The Phillipian.
Dalton and Rotundo will be presented their award on Friday, November 13 in Davis Hall on the Abbot campus.