Brenau University President Ed Schrader welcomes faculty and staff to the opening meeting before the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Growing Gold

Hardy souls still discover places in North Georgia between Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier, not too far from the Brenau historic campus in Gainesville, where they can grab shovels and sluice pans then follow the red blazes hacked into pine trees on public lands to a nice, fast-running creek to see if they can hit the alluvial lottery. These ancient stream beds, many of them undisturbed since the Cherokee lived there, are – geographically and geologically – ideal environments for “growing gold.”

Georgians claim that the first major U.S. gold strike occurred in 1828 about 30 miles from Gainesville, in Dahlonega. However, history’s footnotes show us that gold mining and refining existed as early as 1540, when the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto wandered into North Georgia specifically looking for gold. California’s 1849 gold rush promised quicker, more abundant riches, and interest in Georgia gold, the mineral variety, fizzled. Exactly 50 years after that first strike near Dahlonega, North Georgia saw the beginning of the quest for what we call “gold refined by fire” – discovery and development of the hidden gems in the social, cultural and economic alluvia of our region and around the world who become Brenau women. Strong Brenau women.

That 1878 “strike” evolved beautifully. A nugget of a female seminary became Brenau University, which now has more than 3,500 students enrolled on several campuses around the region and online around the world; there are more than 25,000 living alumni. I have often said – emphatically – that the Women’s College remains the heart and soul of the institution, as it culturally, emotionally and academically feeds everything else that we do. Likewise, the newer coeducational programs throughout the university provide a financial robustness for the Women’s College and the entire university.

Brenau’s founders opened the institution’s doors because of another “commodity” that had become scarce in North Georgia following the Civil War: men. Hundreds of thousands of men of all ages destined to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, merchants and civic leaders in communities like Gainesville all over the South had gone off to particularly gruesome ends in horrific battles. These communities needed to develop leaders and professionals quickly. There were enough forward-thinking people to push beyond the norms of the time with a clear vision that educated women could be the strong, effective leaders that those communities needed as they reinvented themselves from the ashes of war.

One of the major emphases in Brenau’s ongoing $40 million ForeverGold campaign focuses sharply on the absolute requirement that we continue that mission. The world needs women leaders who possess those same strengths the Women’s College imbues in graduates: intellectual and physical strength, courage, the raw power of diverse peoples working together, character and inventive curiosity about all of life’s issues.

Society has begun deconstructing long-standing cultural, legal, institutional and religious barriers hindering women from assuming their rightful roles in leadership. However, much more must be done to create parity in earnings potential, in business and industry management, in high government positions and elected office, and throughout all institutions.

College-educated people in the United States in their lifetimes on average earn far more than those without degrees. However, in our region of the country, more than 3.1 million women have never attended any institution of higher learning – by far the highest percentage anywhere in the country. Compared with other regions, the South finds fewer women in elected offices of government, in corner offices of corporations and in seats around decision-making tables in boardrooms. There is a greater percentage of unemployed women in the South, and those women who are working earn, on average, substantially less than their male counterparts.

In Brenau’s quest, we are in this work together – still digging, sifting, sorting and refining. I am confident that this gold strike we had in Gainesville in 1878 will continue to pan out into more and
more strong Brenau women.

– Ed L. Schrader, Ph.D.

 

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