Grateful Alumna Judith Shapiro ’63 Includes Brandeis in Her Will For Providing Experience of a Lifetime
By David E. Nathan
Judith Shapiro ’63 offers a powerful testimonial about the significance of the liberal arts education she received at Brandeis.
“It made the inside of my head an interesting place to spend the rest of my life,” she says.
Judith’s Brandeis experience established the foundation upon which her trailblazing career was built. She served as president of Barnard College from 1994 to 2008, the first graduate of New York City’s public school system to lead the prestigious women’s college. Many years earlier, after earning her doctorate from Columbia, she had achieved another first: becoming the initial female faculty member in the University of Chicago’s anthropology department.
To acknowledge the central role that Brandeis has played in her life and to ensure that the University continues to offer students the rich, well-rounded educational experience that she enjoyed, Judith has generously supported The Brandeis Fund and scholarships for many years. She also included Brandeis as a beneficiary in her will, making her a member of the University’s Sachar Legacy Society.
“When you give, you’re not only giving to the college you went to and loved, you’re also giving to the Brandeis of the present and the future,” says Judith, a member of the Brandeis Board of Fellows.
Judith arrived at Brandeis in fall 1959 and was immediately struck by the intellectual, cultural and activist fervor of the fledgling university. Academic giants Herbert Marcuse, Frank Manuel and Irving Howe roamed the campus, sharing their insights not merely in lecture halls but also at campus-wide teach-ins that explored issues of the day (Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis and Adolf Eichmann trial, to name a few). She and a few classmates, inspired by The Weavers, formed their own folk band and performed at coffeehouses in Cambridge.
“I do not think I could have gone to college anywhere else and had such a stirring, stimulating experience,” she says.
Judith had come to Brandeis intending to major in theater but changed to history in her first semester. She felt so comfortable in the Brandeis environment that she began to consider a career in academia, following the lead of her mother, a Latin teacher and librarian in New York City.
“It was a world that I found compelling and fascinating,” she says. “Even as a kid, when we played school, I was always the teacher.”
Judith graduated magna cum laude and headed off to Columbia, where she switched her academic focus from history to anthropology. “I decided I’d rather be out in the field than in the archives,” she explains.
Her field work took her to lowland South America, where she studied the Tapirapé and Yanomami Indians of Brazil, and to the Great Basin of North America. She published extensively on gender differences, social organization, cultural theory and missionization.
Judith spent five years at the University of Chicago before leaving in 1975 for Bryn Mawr, where she chaired the anthropology department. In 1986 she moved into academic administration when she accepted the position of provost. Eight years later, she moved back to her native New York as president at Barnard. Since 2013 she has served as president of the Teagle Foundation, which works to support and strengthen liberal arts education.
“Throughout my career, my Brandeis experience has remained with me as a model,” she says. “With all the fads that come and go, Brandeis is like that city upon a hill: the ideal of what a liberal arts education should be.”
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