On 20 September 2021, the mdw conferred an honorary doctoral degree on Evelyn Torton Beck, a pioneer in the fields of women’s and gender studies.
With this act of recognition, the University honoured the outstanding dedication of this Vienna-born scholar, whose years of research have shed light on a rich spectrum of science- and scholarship-critical as well as socially critical themes in close association with the arts. Rector Ulrike Sych: “With this honorary doctorate for Evelyn Torton Beck, the mdw honours a visionary scholar whose transdisciplinary thinking has opened up trailblazing perspectives for subsequent generations of researchers. At the same time, we honour an inspiring personality who, with her inexhaustible creativity, openness, and tenacity, propels the arts and sciences forward as forces that shape society.”
In her speech, which can be accessed via the mdwMediathek, Evelyn Torton Beck expressed her gratitude for this honour and made the following appeal: “Those who would seek to transform institutions and knowledge must learn to work together with others. Even with those who are different from themselves, even when things get uncomfortable. We need utopian thinking; otherwise, we get stuck on old paths that no longer serve our world—and we urgently need things to change. […] As awful as the world looks once again today, I hold fast to the principle of hope. Hope is what makes possible our work as well as transformations. It is never too late, we are never too old, to begin anew, to change ourselves.”
Evelyn Torton Beck, who flew over from Washington, D.C. for the ceremony, was born in Vienna in 1933 and fled from the National Socialist regime together with her family when she was six years old. 1984 saw the comparative literary scholar accept an invitation to teach at the University of Maryland, College Park (just outside of Washington), where she founded that institution’s programme in women’s studies. Following her retirement in 2002, she earned a doctorate in clinical psychology at Fielding Graduate University (2004), where she still contributes to the Creative Longevity and Wisdom Project as an Alum Research Fellow. Such a multifaceted biography as hers can be considered eminently worthy of emulation.
The research pursued by Evelyn Torton Beck on social justice in theory and practice, multiculturalism, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, age discrimination, ableism, and lookism as well as on the healing effect of art plus her work associated with the voice, language, and translation—she translated works from Yiddish into English together with Nobel prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer—continues to be regarded as ground-breaking, for which reason she is viewed as a pioneer in all of these areas. And in terms of present-day gender research, laudatory speaker Doris Ingrisch referred to a central aspect that can already be found in Torton Beck’s output: “Even one of her most important and successful works, Nice Jewish Girls. A Lesbian Anthology, responds to the homophobia in Jewish communities and the racism in lesbian communities with a mode of thought that transcends boundaries and shows Evelyn Torton Beck to have been a pioneer of intersectional thinking long before it became known as such.” Torton Beck has furthermore authored poems and devoted herself to painting, and she continues to dance to this day.
Music by composer Vally Weigl (who was likewise forced to emigrate and went on to co-found the field of music therapy) and Ethel Smyth’s International Women’s Day song “March of the Women” were part of the artistic programme that accompanied the conferral of this honorary degree. Following the ceremony and in the presence of the new mdw honorary doctorate holder and Rector Ulrike Sych, a plaque bearing the names of all those individuals who have been awarded honorary doctorates by the mdw thus far was unveiled in the Aula (the main entrance hall on the mdw Campus).
The full event can be streamed at: