An Interview With Lynne Thompson ’72

Chair of the Scripps College Board of Trustees

by Scripps Magazine

On July 1, Lynne Thompson ’72 stepped into a new role as chair of the Scripps College Board of Trustees. Thompson graduated from Scripps with a degree in social psychology and attended Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles. As a private practice attorney, she specialized in labor and employment litigation before becoming director of the Employee and Labor Relations Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, a position she held for 20 years. She is also an accomplished poet, having published several collections of verse, including the Perugia Press Prize winning Beg No Pardon (2007). Her most recent volume, Fretwork, received the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and will be published in 2019.


Scripps Magazine: How did you find your way to Scripps?

Lynne Thompson ’72 : I was born and raised in Los Angeles with four older brothers, all of whom went to UCLA. I decided, “I don’t want to go there—it’s too big.” And to his credit, one of my brothers, Denis, said, “Well, you know, there’s this great college in Claremont called Scripps. It’s a women’s college, but it’s part of The Claremont Colleges. Maybe you’d like that better—I hear it’s small.”

SM: Do you know how your brother had heard of Scripps?

LT: I don’t know. Probably a girlfriend. But he brought me out here, and I remember walking through the south entrance onto campus, by Balch Hall, and thinking, “Oh my goodness. Of course, this is where I’m going to go.” I was pretty much sold.  Then I learned more about the curriculum, and what a good reputation Scripps had, and I liked that it was part of this group of colleges, even though I didn’t completely understand what that meant. I knew I could take classes at the other campuses, and that was intriguing to me. So yes, I was sold.

SM: Did you have an idea in your head of what a women’s college might be like?

LT: I had grown up surrounded by men, so I don’t think I had a conception, other than that it meant that I would get to live with women instead of with guys. And yet, the boys were across the street, so I was also very cognizant of that! I just thought it would be like having a slumber party all the time.

SM: How did your thinking change once you were at Scripps?

LT: I became very aware of the fact that your ability to express yourself—whether you were right or wrong—was not only okay, it was demanded. I also think understanding community, and what it was to have this community, was an early learning experience. There was academic learning, but then there was personal growth. And I had come to Scripps at 17 years old thinking I was pretty smart, but I discovered I was completely clueless, really, about everything. I entered in 1968, the year that everything changed in American culture. Scripps had been a “pearls at dinner” kind of place when I got here. And, in fact, I had never worn a pair of jeans in my life, because, being the only girl in the family, my mother dressed me like a complete princess. On my first day of class, I was dressed like I was going to a business conference or something. I remember a classmate saying, “Where are you going dressed like that? Go and put on some jeans!” And when I told her that I didn’t own a pair of jeans, she looked at me like I was from Mars. At that time, the Vietnam War was raging, the women’s movement was nascent, we were in the middle of the civil rights era, and it was the year of the assassinations of Kennedy and King. Everything was changing. So, in addition to all the things that you are trying to negotiate as a first-year student, you are also negotiating this tremendous cultural shift. It’s interesting that the Class of 1972 is the only class that has not written on the Graffiti Wall. It’s kind of a thing. We didn’t write on the wall because we thought it was ridiculous. There were too many more important things happening; what would we say? It just felt frivolous. I mean, I’m not sure every graduate would say that, but my recollection was that we thought it was dumb. Groups of us have talked about it over the years, and somebody recently asked, “Now that you’re the chair, maybe you should write on it.” My reaction was, “I’m not going to do it on my own!” But that’s why it’s interesting to me to be chair now, while we are trying to negotiate a new cultural shift and a very different way of thinking about who we are today and how we’re living our lives.

SM: How has Scripps changed, and how has it stayed the same, since you graduated?

LT: It’s definitely a more inclusive environment. I remember, even as a student, talking to faculty about the lack of diversity in the curriculum. Everything was Eurocentric. And, of course, the Black Power movement was about to be at its height, and I remember a professor saying, “Well, it can’t all be about black power.” I said, “I’m not talking only about that. I mean, we never study Asia. Or South America. What about the rest of the planet?” So I’m delighted to see that students have a more global course of study.  Scripps students’ passionate commitment to the world around them is, I think, even better. Every generation has its own challenges, and Scripps is still a great place, in most respects, to begin addressing them.

SM: Can you talk about your journey as an alumna? What’s inspired you to be so involved at Scripps?

LT: I had a positive experience. I made friends that are still my lifelong friends, I worked on campus, I loved my classes. I wasn’t the greatest student, but my overall experience was really good, and I wanted to give back. In particular, I wanted to connect with students of color. Scripps is a challenge, still, for students of color, and I found I could make a difference in that arena. I’ve always felt that if you get a good education at a college that propels you somewhere else—and my class was as successful as any other class at Scripps, professionally—you should give back in some way, if you can. And this was something I could do that I believed in. It’s interesting that “What is the value of a women’s college?” is a question that people often ask. It’s been clear to me over the past few years that it’s more valuable than ever, when we see that women are fighting the same battles they were fighting when I started my career. Certainly, women are running for government now in greater numbers than they were, but why aren’t more women in Hollywood, the courts, business—all of it? Why is it still noteworthy to be Sheryl Sandberg? To be Kamala Harris? This just tells me that what we are doing in preparing women is as important as it ever was. Someone was recently asking me, “How much longer can Scripps stay a women’s college?” And I said, “I’m sorry—what? Don’t even think about it.”

SM: I hope that person wasn’t someone from Scripps!

LT: No, it was not a Scripps person!

SM: What are some of the priorities that you want to tackle as Board chair?

LT: The president is working on a new strategic plan, and I want to make sure that the Board is fully engaged in that effort. I’m also excited to have a seat at the table at The Claremont Colleges Board, so that we can think about ways of making the consortium even stronger. We are also looking at how to strengthen academic programs for students with evolving interests. When I was at Scripps, everyone was trying to figure out how to avoid the sciences. I took botany—I thought, “How bad could it be? It’s about flowers!” But it was really hard. So to see this shift, and to know that the Scripps students are the greatest percentage of students in the Keck Science Department, is mind boggling to me. We need to continue to maintain Scripps’ focus on the Core Curriculum and the humanities while still embracing STEM and evolving areas of study.