Growing up in Massachusetts, Shirley Lawrence
never gave much thought to customs in Asian countries. But during her 18
years as program coordinator for the East Asian Studies Program, Lawrence
has acquired not only knowledge, but a deep appreciation for Asian art,
music and culture.
“Being here 18 years, I feel as though the program continually evolves,”
Lawrence says. “I thoroughly enjoy it, and the environment is so
stimulating. It’s never the same one year to the next, and I get so much out
of the events that I’ve been a part of.”
Over the years Lawrence has coordinated such events as tours of the Freeman
Family Japanese Garden, lectures on U.S.-Japan security relations,
presentations on America’s relations with Vietnam and the traditional
drumming and dance of Korean p’ungmulnori by members of the Wesleyan
Korean Drumming ensemble.
In addition to handling logistical issues with the speakers and performers,
Lawrence writes press releases, maintains the center’s mailing list, manages
the program's budget, arranges accommodations and oversees the center’s Outreach
The program provides hands-on cultural activities for school-aged children.
The groups of 22 are bussed in, and have the option of learning Chinese or
Japanese calligraphy, cooking Chinese, Japanese or Korean dishes, studying
martial arts, playing traditional Japanese and Chinese instruments, reading
folktales, making origami or participating in a Japanese tea ceremony.
Younger children have the option of wearing vibrant Japanese kimonos during
“The Outreach Program is my favorite part about working here,” she says. “I
love to see the children immersed in these unique, cultural activities. They
won’t forget their experience here.”
Lawrence has also attended numerous ethnic music programs and Chinese
theater events, and has taken East Asian history and music courses.
Lawrence began her Wesleyan career 30 years ago, in a part-time position the
Mathematics Department where she remained until 1977. Lawrence moved to the Center of Humanities where she worked until 1985, and she
worked in Alumni Programs until 1987 when the Mansfield Freeman Center for
East Asian Studies officially opened on Washington Terrace. The center’s new
addition will open in January 2006 and host classes and events in a 100-seat
"We don't want people to think of the center as that place on the edge of
campus. It is a perception we work hard to change," Lawrence says. "We do
our best to get the word out about our programs and events."
Vera Schwarcz, Mansfield Professor of East Asian Studies, Professor of
History and former chair of the East Asian Studies program, has relied on
Lawrence’s vision and support for many years. Schwarcz says several of the
distinguished guests that she has brought to Wesleyan have commented on her
efficiency, her thoughtful planning for every aspect of their visit.
“Shirley has always been an enthusiastic partner in building East Asian
Studies at Wesleyan, and in making the Freeman Center an utterly unique,
gracious resource for students and visitors alike,” says Schwarcz, who was
founding director. “She’s
always there with a smile and a suggestion about yet another way to make our
mission more meaningful to the community at large. She’s a true jewel of
commitment and service at Wesleyan.”
Lawrence says technology has been the biggest change. In 1975, she used an
electric typewriter with hand-held mathematical-symbol keys while working in
the Math Department.
“I was no mathematician, I was just a secretary and I could have created
some amazing math formulas with those greater and less than symbols,” she
says, smiling. “I didn’t always know what I was typing.”
Lawrence says she’s also impressed with the number of construction projects
popping up throughout the campus landscape.
“The growth here on campus recently has been extraordinary,” she says,
noting the new Center for Film Studies, the Susan Lemberg Usdan University
Center, Freeman Athletic Center, Fauver Field Residences and the Mansfield
Freeman Center for East Asian Studies extension.
Lawrence says she may retire in five years to devote more time to her two
grandchildren, gardening, knitting, church projects and traveling – via
motorcycle – with her husband, Ted. However, the thought of leaving Wesleyan
is a difficult one for her right now.
“I would really miss this,” she says, from her sunny, corner office. “This
atmosphere is so invigorating, and the students bring so much enthusiasm
here. I’d miss their high-energy. It rubs off on us all.”