Suki Hoagland ’78

I learned about Wesleyan from a catalog of colleges: I read through the entire book, reached the W’s, and just loved the description, which, even back then, talked about the importance of diversity. Coming from a large public high school that was in the middle of the court-ordered busing experiment and being very supportive of what was happening with school desegregation, that little paragraph really spoke to me. After a visit, I knew Wesleyan was the place for me.

At Wesleyan, I was a member of the field hockey, swimming and diving, and lacrosse teams. Because there wasn’t a women’s swimming and diving team during my freshman and sophomore years, I was actually a diver on the men's team—and even earned a varsity letter on that team. Thanks to Wesleyan's commitment to equality and with the support of an athletic director who was eager to help women find their way, I had the opportunity to help create both the women’s swimming and diving team and the women's lacrosse team and to participate in sports for twelve consecutive seasons.

When I chose Wesleyan, some people said, “It’s smaller than your high school—and it’s kind of remote. Is there going to be enough action going on?” I can honestly say that in four years, there was not a single moment I thought I was missing out on something. In fact I was delighted with everything available for me to explore—from film series to guest speakers to gamelan performances—as well as with the support I received to take risks and try new things.

As the only girl on the boy’s lacrosse team during my senior year in high school in Colorado in 1974, I was determined to be on the frontier of the whole world opening up to women. I was sure I would break new ground in college and in my career, by becoming a neurosurgeon or, perhaps, an astronaut. During my four years at Wesleyan, I took courses in more than a dozen different departments. I tried many disciplines until I found Government and, within Government, a real passion for International Relations—focusing on policy and on making the world more just, more equitable, and more open.

The diversity of thought I was exposed to at Wesleyan really helped me push the envelope of interdisciplinary studies. While international relations is inherently interdisciplinary, I wanted to take it even farther. I did my dissertation research in Kenya, focusing on development assistance projects that were helping rural women to plant trees so that they had the fuelwood they needed to cook and support their families—a focus that was quite outside the range of what most people were then doing within international relations.

As a young professor, I developed the International Environment and Development Semester Program for American University. To take part in the program, students from all over the world would leave their home campus and come to Washington, D.C., where they would be compelled to look at issues from many different perspectives. IMAGE_ALT_TEXTWe would spend the first twelve weeks in D.C., listening to guest speaker after guest speaker and learning all about policymaking in environmental issues, development, and poverty reduction. Then it was off to Kenya for three weeks in the fall or Costa Rica for three weeks in the spring.

I believe it's vital to become a global citizen and to not only be aware of the situation around the world, but to develop the critical and analytical skills to think about how to address the challenges we face. In Kenya and Costa Rica we would meet with government officials, local leaders, heads of women's groups, and other community groups, in addition to visiting all the major ecological zones. We would look at policy that might make a lot of sense when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned building in Washington, D.C., but when you’re sitting in a mud hut in Kenya, you realize, “Oh, maybe this isn't the best idea after all."

Because teaching was one of the few things women had always been able to do, it was hard for me to accept the fact that I wanted to become a teacher. There I was at Wesleyan, with the whole world open to me, and I chose teaching. I fought that calling for a long time, because I thought, “Well, this is crazy. I could have done this 300 years ago!” But when I completed what was then a four-course Certificate in Education, I realized that I really loved being in the classroom. I’ve been teaching ever since.

My time at Wesleyan influenced how I see the world, how I learn, and how I teach others. I can't describe fully enough how much I loved my experience at Wesleyan and how my time at Wesleyan gave me the foundation to go off and explore the way I did. I owe so much of all that I’ve done to Wesleyan, and I want to make sure we can keep having the diversity of the student body, the diversity of the faculty, the breadth of offerings, and the opportunity for undergraduates to get out in to the real world. This is Why I give to Wesleyan.

Suki Hoagland is a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, having been the Executive Director and Senior Lecturer of their Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources. She earned a B.A. in Government from Wesleyan University, an M.A. in International Relations and Education from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and a PhD in International Relations from American University's School of International Service. She has more than 30 years of experience teaching kindergarteners through PhD candidates. She is married with two sons.

The Suki Hoagland '78 Award is presented annually for outstanding contributions to women's athletics at Wesleyan.