February 27, 2013
From: Susan Scrimshaw, President, The Sage Colleges
Sharon Robinson, Dean, Russell Sage College
We understand some alumnae are just now learning about the Male Actor Apprenticeship Program (MAAP) housed at RSC. In its 5th year, this program was founded prior to President Scrimshaw’s arrival at Sage, at the request of faculty to improve the quality of our theatre program by bringing in male students with strong theatre backgrounds instead of relying on men in the Albany region when needed for key theatre roles.
We are including a copy of the letter sent to alumnae who inquired about the program in September of 2011, which includes a history of men at RSC (and which has been posted by others on this Facebook page). In the past, several programs at Russell Sage included many more men than the current theatre program, and this is summarized in that letter.
The program is small in number, less than 1% of our RSC student body—especially compared to similar programs at other women’s colleges which range up to 17% men—but has proved its value, particularly as we expanded our theater program to replace the former New York State Theatre Institute with The Theatre Institute at Sage.
One of the finest “teachable moments” either of us has encountered was in the fall of 2011, when we held a “town hall” meeting in Bush to discuss the issues surrounding the Male Actor Apprenticeship Program. The room was full, the conversation and debate spirited, articulate, and respectful; it was an example of the very best of what an educational institution like RSC is all about. Faculty, students, alumnae, and parents all presented pro and con views and, mostly, “fact checked” the situation. It is our belief, based upon our experience in that room and supported by conversations that followed, that most supported the decision and all felt proud of the way everyone participated in the discussions.
What stood out—and above all else—was the shared commitment to the values of RSC. We can report that the Male Actor Apprenticeship Program has not only lifted the quality of our theatrical productions, but has also brought us a few good men—young men who are respectful of our mission and eager to be part of our community. They have been warmly welcomed into the sisterhood; indeed, last Friday’s Rally Night brimmed with warmth and the spirit that is Russell Sage.
The MAAP program is an adaptation that has added value to the contemporary RSC. Those of us with stewardship responsibility will always do our best to assure the prosperity of the institution while remaining true to the values that distinguish it. We remain committed to Russell Sage College as a women’s college, and our increasing applications and enrollments are testimony to the viability of that commitment. During the last year, two more women’s colleges have gone co-ed in order to preserve their institutions—and during that time RSC has grown stronger.
[Scroll down for last year’s letter.]
September 15, 2011
From: Susan Scrimshaw, President, The Sage Colleges
Sharon Robinson, Dean, Russell Sage College
Let us begin by saying that Russell Sage College is stronger than ever as a women’s college, and will remain a women’s college as long as we have any involvement here as administrators. The past three years under new leadership have been dedicated to preserving RSC as a women’s college, with dramatic improvements in recruitment, applications, enrollments, facilities updates, new faculty and other transformations. We are pleased to note that we have just welcomed the largest entering class in many years. The viability of Russell Sage as a women’s college has been dramatically reaffirmed.
Out of 360-plus women’s colleges in 1960, fewer than 55 remain. We at Russell Sage are proud to be among the few who are committed to continuing the tradition of women-centered education in a women’s college environment. Both of us are graduates of women’s colleges and remain passionate about the continuing value of women’s colleges.
Both of us have written op eds that reaffirm the importance of women’s colleges in today’s world.
Russell Sage is a member of the Women’s College Coalition. Based on data from this group, most women’s colleges today have small programs that include male students. Russell Sage’s MAAP program is among the smallest and most constrained of these.
We are writing to address the concerns of some Russell Sage alumnae about what we informally call the “MAAPs”—students in the Male Actor Apprenticeship Program. There seems to be some misunderstanding about the program itself, as well as concerns over a specific issue that has arisen this fall.
A bit of history: A proposal from the Creative and Performing Arts program to recruit and accept a very small number of male students into the theater and musical theater programs (maximum total of 5 across all classes) was already in place when President Scrimshaw arrived. This program could only be run on the Russell Sage campus because that is where the theatre programs are located. In Fall 2008, Russell Sage accepted four men into the Male Student Apprentice Program in Theatre. This program is modeled after those in place at many women’s colleges, and RSC’s goal mirrors the intent of such programs: to raise the level of productions in support of our women theatre students by ending their dependence on local amateurs. This has become particularly important as we move from the NYSTI era to the Theatre Institute at Sage. If you’ve seen any of our superb productions during the past four years (Little Women, Urinetown, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Peter Pan, The Heiress, Seussical the Musical), you know that the MAAPs have done exactly what we wanted them to do.
It is important to note that the MAAP students do not live in our first-year undergraduate residence halls. Those who chose to live on campus live in Manning Hall, a building with private rooms and private baths, located on the corner of 2nd Street and Congress. This building also houses graduate students and seniors.
Last May, our four original apprentices graduated, making room for a new group. This Fall, Russell Sage enrolled 157 new First Year students—our largest incoming class in over a decade. Four of them are young men, making them 4 out of a total population of 755 students. We are confident that four men will not transform the quality of the educational experience for women at Russell Sage. There is no intention to expand this program beyond a possible 10 students, as the purpose for creating it is served with even the 4 students we have now. Because The Sage Colleges includes a co-ed undergraduate college in Albany, there is no financial justification or need to change Russell Sage College. Its status as a women’s college is protected and assured.
The current MAAP students are fewer than RSC has seen in the past. Men have been admitted to RSC classes for at least the last 70 years—whether through the legislation in support of WWII veterans, the Hudson Mohawk consortium of area colleges, the former Evening Division (which, incidentally, issued thousands of Russell Sage diplomas to men in those programs), post-baccalaureate Education prerequisites or Pre-Med certificates, and, for many years, in the then-undergraduate Physical Therapy program. It is the feeling of most of us who have had one or two men in a class that it’s an excellent learning experience for everyone when the “balance of power” is reversed. We like to think that that experience has helped shape many a forward-thinking man.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that one of the four current Apprentices is the grandson of a Russell Sage alumna (and the grand-nephew of another). That these women thought highly enough of their alma mater to encourage him to travel from California for this very special opportunity says a great deal about what we do here at Russell Sage.
To address the current issue at hand: None of the previous Apprentices had demonstrated an interest in being part of the RSC traditions, though on occasion they watched from the sidelines. This fall, two of the new Apprentices asked to participate in Banner Night; they had “sponsorship” from students, some of whom offered to be the Big Sister who lit their candles during that part of the ceremony. They kept a low profile, clearly knew the words to the alma mater, wore red tee-shirts, and seemed to have a good time. The First Year class has been very welcoming, and most upper class-women have been as well.
Because the request to participate came on the day of the event, there was not time to discuss it more broadly with students—a conversation that ideally might have led to a better understanding of the MAAPs’ participation. A discussion with elected student leaders took place on Wednesday, September 14, and an open forum for all interested students is being planned.
These four 18 year-olds are doing their best to belong at Sage. We have confidence in the wisdom and kindness of our students as we work toward a solution that reflects our community values.
We are moved by the passion you show for your alma mater, and are pleased that you so strongly support Russell Sage’s continuation as a women’s college. We and many others have worked hard and sacrificed much to preserve and now strengthen Russell Sage College through tumultuous economic times. We are now in a period of robust growth and soon will welcome a second century for the remarkable institution that is Russell Sage College.