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In Memoriam: Alice Jeghelian, 85, Led Efforts on Affirmative Action

07/09/14
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By Office of News & Public Affairs |

Published: July 9, 2014

Alice Jeghelian, a retired long-time administrator who helped lead Boston College’s institutional efforts in affirmative action and discriminatory harassment, died on June 21. She was 85.

Dr. Jeghelian was studying for her doctorate in counseling and psychology at BC in the late 1960s, a time when the University – like many colleges throughout the US – was experiencing student unrest amidst political and social changes. A nursing counselor, Dr. Jeghelian was asked by the administration to serve as its liaison in discussions with students about issues of concern to them – a role she had played earlier as assistant dean for women at Northeastern University. BC President Seavey Joyce, SJ, appointed her to a committee to examine in particular the role of women at the Heights.

In 1971, Dr. Jeghelian was chosen to direct BC’s new Office of Affirmative Action, created to develop “a plan to provide equal opportunity in both employment and education.” She formulated an affirmative action program for the University that was approved by the Board of Trustees in 1973, and that year she was appointed as special assistant to the president with a specific focus on affirmative action. Among her tasks was to coordinate BC’s compliance with Title IX, the 1972 federal statute prohibiting discrimination in educational programs and activities on the basis of sex.

Interviewed by The Heights in 1980, Dr. Jeghelian described the purpose of her office as “the business of doing whatever it takes to get rid of the barriers between people,” and sought to correct what she said was a misunderstanding of affirmative action: “While we do work for the rights of women and minorities, we are here for everyone. Even if someone does not have a complaint but merely wants clarification on a law or some aspect relating to affirmative action, they may come to us.” BC’s prime motivation for instituting affirmative action programs came not from government pressure, she said, but because the University believed “the programs are ethically right."

Dr. Jeghelian assumed the title of director of professional development in 1985, and her office became aligned with the Office of Human Resources. She continued to work on issues and initiatives related to the growing presence of women and persons of color in the University. Long an advocate for child care facilities on campus, Dr. Jeghelian chaired a committee – formed by the University’s Affirmative Action Council, of which she was director – that in 1984 proposed building a day care center; four years later, the Boston College Children’s Center opened its doors.

In 1990, University President J. Donald Monan, SJ, appointed Dr. Jeghelian to chair a committee charged with revising BC’s policy on discriminatory harassment; she had headed the committee that drafted the original policy in 1982. As part of the new guidelines, Fr. Monan announced in October of 1991 that Dr. Jeghelian would be the University’s first harassment counselor, to assist faculty, staff or students experiencing problems related to sexual, racial or other forms of harassment.

“Alice’s experienced judgment, her training as a professional counselor and her familiarity with the technical requirements of professional conduct in a university setting,” said Fr. Monan, “assure that our policy will benefit from a person whose experience merits the confidence of the entire Boston College community.”

Dr. Jeghelian told Boston College Biweekly that the new policy reflected BC’s dedication to uphold academic freedom while explicitly stating its prohibition of discriminatory harassment. “By articulating these as clear principles, we are saying that the University is committed to striking a balance between the two and will do so in such cases.”

Dr. Jeghelian retired from BC in 1994 after 25 years of service, and moved to Florida, where she worked as a mediator in small claims court, sang in a local chorus and painted in watercolor.

A native of Boston, Dr. Jeghelian earned a bachelor's degree in English at Mount Holyoke College and a master's degree from Harvard University. After working in clerical positions at Harvard and MIT, she returned to Mount Holyoke as assistant director of admissions before going onto Northeastern and BC.

She is survived by her brother, Leo Jeghelian; sister, Jaye Howes; two nieces and a nephew; and three great nieces and three great nephews. A private memorial service was held June 27 at Breslin Funeral Home in Malden, Mass., followed by interment at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Arlington.

Donations in Dr. Jeghelian’s memory can be made to Anna Maria Island Chorus and Orchestra [www.amicco.org].