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Reflections from a Mercy Professor: The Small Moments Matter Too When Supporting Other Women

Professor Maureen MacLeod

Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate the role women have played in history and a time to consider the path forward. For Mercy assistant professor of history Maureen MacLeod, Ph.D., her path forward was shaped by meeting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 12 years ago. In a 15-minute conversation, Ginsburg inspired MacLeod in her own career and influenced how MacLeod helps her students today.

In 2009, MacLeod and a friend obtained tickets to sit in Ginsburg’s box in the Supreme Court and were able to listen to her read a judgment before taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the court. When they entered Ginsburg’s office, she happened to be there. Not only did they meet her, but she spoke with them for about 15 minutes.

“She was really warm and inviting,” MacLeod said. “At the time, I was getting my Ph.D. in history, and my friend had just finished law school. Ginsburg was very forthcoming about how there needs to be more women in both academia and law. She said that the world needs to know what women experience and how it’s different than what men experience.”

MacLeod said that Ginsburg’s impact was both about what she said and how she made MacLeod feel: “She looked at me when I spoke. She was genuinely interested. She carved out time to be interested in what we were doing as young women who were going to make an impact in the world.”

The interaction has stayed with MacLeod all these years later, making her realize how impactful even short, informal conversations are. “When we're kind, when we think about our responses, when we take that extra step — we can inspire at any moment. It doesn't have to be a formal, multi-year mentoring relationship. Even a few minutes can make a difference.”

Now as a professor, MacLeod carries this empathy and attentiveness into her interactions with students. She gets to know them on a personal level, listens to their successes and struggles and offers advice on all kinds of issues — both academic and non-academic. She also takes the time to speak with students who are not in her classes and even Ph.D. students at other colleges and universities. “My big goal is to always show interest in what they're doing so that they feel like they're valued and that they matter,” she said. “We all need to hear that every once in a while. I think we forget that it's the little things that leave the biggest impact.”

MacLeod believes that every woman needs another woman to look up to. “It’s not always easy to find formal mentors. So I looked to other women throughout history to inspire me to keep pushing because I knew that they kept pushing. To me, Women’s History Month is about remembering the contributions of women in history and finding a way to pay it forward. Not just in March, but all the time.”

Mercy College is hosting two events to Celebrate Women’s History Month

  • Women’s History Month Community Event: Contributions of Women in History, Culture and Society
    March 18, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    RSVP here
  • Women’s Empowerment Conference: “Women Catalysts for Change: The Journey to Empowerment”
    March 19, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
    Virtual workshops will focus on topics such as using your voice to create change, finding creative ways to achieve your big dream, and using feedback to foster growth and development.
    RSVP here