Since the 1880s, when they first started taking classes at Queen’s, women have worked with determination to gain higher education. They overcame initial resistance to their right to be students working for a degree. In the early 1900s women students banded together to live communally in various houses in Kingston. By 1926, early Alumnae built the first university residence, Ban Righ Hall.
They also built the tradition of Queen’s women working to “secure for those coming after them, access to all the resources of the University and the same benefits of communal life and study they themselves had known.”
The original and base funding for the work of the Ban Righ Foundation came from nearly 50 years of careful management of the women’s residences by the Ban Righ (Residence) Board and by the women students.
The Ban Righ Centre was founded in 1974 by women graduates of Queen’s University with monies earned and invested by alumnae who built and administered the women’s residences until the early 1970s.
The Founding Vision - Joanne Page, 1998
Drawing from the long tradition of academic quest on the part of Queen’s Women, and anticipating the present concept of continuing education, the founders of the Ban Righ Foundation created an agent of change and of reconciliation, in a single far-reaching throw.
They envisaged the Foundation as a place of intellectual vitality by way of individual accomplishment and mutual encouragement. From their residence experience, they knew that living together, even briefly during the day, promotes familiarity and stability. They held out, then, for the right location and chose a house rather than a series of offices. Perhaps most significantly, they resolved that the Foundation must evolve, as would the University and the profile of the returning student.
Three decades later, the University has indeed changed, as have women’s lives. The institution’s systems have become more regularized, its culture less personal. Tuition has risen. Women, now half the work force, understand universities as a vehicle for economic advancement as much as personal edification. At a time when social commitment to public education wavers, more women aspire to part-time and full-time admission. As the resources of the administration diminish, the student’s financial burden increases. And, however regrettable, obstacles remain for women returning to education.
The Foundation seeks to reconcile people with place and purpose. Because it is independently housed, because of its obvious and its unexpected links within the academy and the community, because of its history, because it is part of the University and yet it is different, a visiting scholar finds herself comfortably expounding, the new Faculty member voices her fears about tenure, the University staff member wades into a lunch-hour session, a graduate student reveals her research problems, the part-time student gets a toe-hold, a group of forty parents and children enjoy an uproarious supper. The common ground is vast and compelling: thinking, learning.
Striving to be greater than the sum of the parts, the Foundation remains willingly specific in mandate. It is the richness of the parts – the students and the community they create – which makes the Foundation work and enables the students to offer their individual contribution as well as simply attend classes. Programming is intentionally responsive and broad. Its processes are interconnected. Routine varies reflecting need. Discussions flourish. The individual is valued. It is the integration of these parts which enables the student to enter university life fully.
Providing a place for women within what can seem a large unknowable structure, the University demonstrates that the complex mix of goals and personal responsibilities which women students continue to bear is of equal importance to, say, an art collection or a skating rink. Students testify that such a place has been of monumental value, the difference between giving up and continuing.
The University, by definition, must shape the future through the lens of the academic community. The designers of the Foundation worked with the same lens focused on a human scale; the Foundation’s charge is to, when necessary, go after the future for one person. These are two parts of the whole, and a wise institution secures both.
As evidence of the visionary largess of Queen’s Women, the Foundation continues to urge students towards a deep and personal attachment to education. In partnership with the University, it is, by foresight and rarity, a resource and an investment which distinguishes Queen’s from other universities across the country.
History - Joanne Page 1999
The origins of the Ban Righ Foundation is a story its admirers love to tell. Contemporary Board of Trustee minutes give the bare bones; a Masters thesis by Marion Campbell rounds out the story and it’s a good one. There are the monies saved by successive women’s residence boards and fought for by the far-sighted women we now call the Founders; administrators of the day, with designs on the savings, either outwitted or persuaded, Senate debates – flurry and fury – over whether such a foundation for continuing education should be set up for women only. In the end, the determined women secured the money and set to work to create the Ban Righ Foundation.
The Founders worked from a blueprint that is as valid today as it was then: to be resolutely in the here and now, and think ahead.
These visionary of a practical persuasion were firm about everything, even location: they held out for a house, not the series of offices they were offered. What they had in mind was not domestic so much as utilitarian. They knew that a community forms more quickly, and possibly indelibly, when it has a roof over its head, walls and a kitchen. This has been the case since kitchen fires and tents.
Like the University, the Ban Righ Centre might be described as a place of encounters. The principal encounter is, of course, with learning. This encounter will be brief but lasting, when considered in the context of a lifetime.
Here’s how it works at the Ban Righ Centre. A person dropping in – say it’s you – doesn’t know what to expect, which is apt because it could go any one of thirty ways. You are greeted and get the house tour. Or, you are greeted and asked to join the conversation, perhaps the tumultuous argument, underway. Shortly someone will inquire about you – in an open-ended way so as not to put you on the spot – enough to let you indicate whether you are there for a break or in need of information, or of the myriad reasons a person might have.
The encounter begins. Where it leads is anybody’s guess. Possibly to assistance with the vast array of University services: where to go for what. Or, maybe you team up with another student to get through Statistics, and forge a friendship. Could be that the encounter becomes extended, that you take root for a year, two. What you seek in the way of peace and quiet, upstairs on a couch in the late afternoon, is a much-needed encounter with solitude, and the Ban Righ Centre is the only place in your complicated life where this is possible.
The encounters, if you think about it, range in tone and substance. People have declared that the Ban Righ Centre has saved their lives, Literally. For others, links established pulled them outward; or, friends acquired enabled the individual to push through defenses and fears, to launch herself: an awakening. Each encounter is always intensely personal.
Encounters with awkwardness, with aggravation, with civility, with wonder. Opportunity to comprehend the astonishment of an idea, the intricate workings of the mind. A chance to acquire the sturdy glory of a friend.
However much theories of education wax and wane, the brilliance of such encounters with learning will continue to illuminate. Perhaps when the next anniversary gets celebrated, these last few years will look like a time in which the Ban Righ Foundation encountered change and change was accommodated, a time when origins counted.