I still have my notes from a history class taught by Dr. Iversen that I took decades ago. As a kid, I was never a history buff. I considered history to be a very male pursuit. Mostly because every history enthusiast I knew were men obsessed with war history. Like my Dad who watched every WWII movie a zillion times. Joan Iversen changed all that for me. I took 3 amazing classes with her. The most fascinating to me was the ‘History of Women’ class. I was star-struck by her and by the women she brought to life in her classroom. One of the most memorable topics she covered was called “From Suffrage to the Feminine Mystique.” The concept of feminism being born, killed off, and then re-born has stayed with me since then as I’ve watched popular culture pretty much kill it off once again. But now I know it’s a cycle – painful but necessary.
Beyond all the powerful knowledge that Dr. Iversen bestowed upon her students, for me she did much more. Some of her lessons seemed to be specifically about my family. It was a trip. I was this 2nd generation blue collar Italian-American from Brooklyn, NY who hadn’t thought much about my family’s history and was probably more embarrassed than curious. That was until Joan Iversen described my immigrant grandmother and my 1st generation mother to perfection. Suddenly, I understood so much more about my own family life. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to take me there. After gaining all this insight, she asked us to interview our mothers. I still have the paper I wrote about my mother who I lost less than 10 years after leaving SUNY Oneonta. It’s precious to me.
One of my favorite Joan Iversen sayings (one that she repeated through many of our class sessions) was: “You know somehow society always blames the Mother. It doesn’t matter what goes wrong, it’s the Mother’s fault.” She always had a way of saying things that stuck with me for years to come and that were somehow appropriate in so many situations.
As I conclude my reflections, one thing I’ve always remembered about her is a funny anecdote that actually happened outside of the classroom. Back then many of the hip intellectuals smoked cigarettes incessantly. One day I was standing around listening to a group of people philosophizing about something or other. A cloud of smoke surrounded all of us whether we were smoking or not. Dr. Iversen (who had quit smoking by then) came through and stood in the middle of the group, took a deep breath, and said, “Aah, the smoke. Let me just breathe that in.” Then she just continued on her way leaving everyone there laughing. At the time, I remembered wondering if she did like breathing it in or if she was making a statement about all the smoke clouding around everyone. Or maybe it was both. I’ll never know but Joan Iversen always left me thinking and smiling at the same time. I was privileged to have had her as a professor and as a mentor to our Women’s Alliance club. RIP
~ Stevi Calandra
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