Photo by Richard Howard
Given annually at reunion by the WCAA, the Syrena Stackpole Award honors dedicated service and exceptional commitment to Wellesley. The 2019 recipient was:
Karen E. Williamson ’69
Williamson’s service to the College—and to generations of students who followed her—began when she arrived at Wellesley in 1965 as one of six African-American students in her class. She immediately became aware of unspoken rules that housed students of color only with other students of color. With four other women, she founded Ethos as a way to confront racism on campus. This organization recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and has provided critical support for many students of African descent.
Williamson has served as president of her class and of the Washington (D.C.) Wellesley Club, and has raised funds for the College as a member of her class Durant Committee. She was a member of the WCAA’s board of directors from 2005 to 2009 and then became the association’s first African-American president in 2012, concurrently serving on the College’s Board of Trustees. She was a founding member of WAAD, the now-active shared identity group for Wellesley Alumnae of African Descent. She served as a member of the presidential search committee that selected Paula Johnson as Wellesley’s 14th president and has chaired the Alumnae Trustee Nominating Committee.
Most of all, however, Williamson is known to generations of alumnae as an advocate and mentor for students of color, so much so that when her face appeared on the cover of this magazine, a young black alumna asked her to autograph it. As the award citation stated, “Our recipient’s decades of work have literally changed the experience of many students and alumnae for the better. … We are incredibly fortunate to be the beneficiary of her tremendous passion, wisdom, and talent.”