Women’s participation in politics is crucial to promote gender equality, Rosemary Kilkenny (LAW ’87), Georgetown’s first vice president for Institutional Diversity and Equity, said while accepting the inaugural Dr. Carol J. Lancaster award Feb. 28.
Kilkenny received the award, presented by the Georgetown University Women’s Center, for her commitment to service in the Georgetown community. The event featured not only the presentation of the award, named for former School of Foreign Service Dean Carol Lancaster (SFS ’64) for her leadership and commitment to service, but also a conversation with Kilkenny on the status of women in educational institutions, moderated by Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jeanne Lord.
After finishing undergraduate and graduate degrees at Kent State University, Kilkenny worked in various diversity-focused positions at her alma mater, including establishing a national program to increase representation of black students in graduate schools. She then came to the Hilltop in 1980 to serve as special assistant for affirmative action programs for late President Fr. Timothy Healy, S.J. At Georgetown, she has championed programs to provide educational access for disadvantaged members of the university community.
Kilkenny graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1987. University President John J. DeGioia appointed her to her current position in 2006.
In her acceptance speech at the event, Kilkenny reflected on her experiences as a woman of color in the workplace, saying it was important for her to create connections with other women at work, especially women who had families.
“People still don’t know what to do with women in power,” Kilkenny said, noting she would often find herself as the only woman in a meeting. She said she often felt a sense of camaraderie with other working women. “We all wanted to have a career, and we also wanted to have families,” she said.
Kilkenny and other women in leadership have continually supported one another as they navigated the male-dominated education system, Kilkenny said in her speech. She described the defining relationships she had with mentors and said she tries to form similar bonds with young women in her life today.
Reflecting on her experience as a woman of color in leadership, Kilkenny said she has at times felt alone in her work.
“Sometimes it’s lonely,” Kilkenny said. “You carry the burden to inspire younger generations; you’re conscious of it.”
The event was hosted by the Women’s Center as part of the annual Biondi Copeland Lecture Series on Women in Education. The series is funded by the Biondi Copeland Family Fund, launched by Gianna Biondi (COL ’85) and John Copeland (COL ’84) in 2014 to support women on Georgetown’s campus.
Speaking at the event, DeGioia recognized Kilkenny’s commitment to forging equal opportunities for all students on campus.
“In the years since Rosemary joined our community, her efforts have had a transformative impact on our Hilltop, deepening our commitment to ensure the full development of each and every member of our community,” DeGioia said. “We would not be the Georgetown we are today if, in 1980, she hadn’t made the decision to come here and be part of this work.”
SFS Dean Joel Hellman also emphasized Kilkenny’s effectiveness in providing opportunities for historically marginalized communities on campus.
Kilkenny displays a “commitment to human development, a commitment to the marginalized, to the poor; a Jesuit commitment to reach out to the boundaries and engage with them,” Hellman said at the event.
Charlene Brown-McKenzie, director of the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, described Kilkenny as a “model for leadership, for building community across difference.”
At the conclusion of her speech, Kilkenny said she is optimistic about the future of women in politics, saying minority and female participation can effect policy change. She urged young women to continue to be involved in politics and leadership positions to promote equality.
“I would urge women to run for elected office and to get involved,” she said. “Vote!”