Women Whistleblowers of George Mason

In 1971, George Mason College was accused of contravening the 1964 Civil Rights Act. At first the charges related to a low Black graduation rate. Then other irregularities were uncovered.[1]

Two women had a significant impact in exposing the racial injustices that led to the civil rights investigation of George Mason College (GMC): Dr. Eloise Severinson, a federally appointed regional civil rights director for the Department of Health Education and Welfare, and Mrs. Irma Willson, an undegraduate at GMC.  Their interventions led to reforms that are now forgotten.

Eloise Severinson Photo

A photo of Eloise Severinson doing advocacy and investigative work

Eloise Severinson grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. She left the Upper Midwest to head east where she completed a doctoral program in social work at the University of Pennsylvania. With PhD in hand, Dr. Severinson became an advocate for the 1964 Civil Rights Act by ensuring that colleges and high schools, especially those in previously segregated Southern states, properly integrate their institutions and campuses.

Irma Willson

A GMC yearbook photograph of Mrs. Irma Willson

Irma Willson started her studies at GMC in 1968. She was one of the very few Black students admitted to the college. Irma Willson pioneered her own path to social justice initiatives when she made the school's admissions committee aware of the racist obstacles she faced when trying to enroll as an undergraduate at GMC.

Dr. Eloise Severinson and Mrs. Irma Willson represented the women whistleblowers of George Mason College.  They brought to light practices that excluded people and insisted that GMC correct its course.  We might see them as the real founders of one of the most diverse and inclusive universities in the United States.

[1] GMU Presidential Papers, Series 3: Lorin A. Thompson, 1964-1981, Box 13, Folder 6, Collection #R0019, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

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