‘Dean Joan’ leaves legacy of female empowerment


Photo from Joan Schaefer’s website

Last week, the USC community lost a member of the Trojan Family known iconically as “Dean Joan,” who has been described as a beacon for students seeking advice, a listening ear and a genuine friend.

Joan Metcalf Schaefer, who served as USC’s Dean of Women Emerita from 1955 to 1992, died on Sept. 3. She was 95.

Schaefer had an open-door policy, and welcomed walk-ins from all students, including many men. Those who sat in her office describe having “instant chemistry” in their first interactions with Schaefer.

She kept in touch with many former students, spending holidays and dinners with their families, alumnus and Schaefer’s longtime friend Jerry Papazian said. After retiring from her official position, Schaefer spent another 20 years at USC counseling groups like the Mortar Board national honor society and served on the executive board of Phi Beta Kappa, according to Papazian. She also began taking over 30 students to a summer program at the University of Cambridge in England each year.

Papazian met Schaefer in 1975 when he was a student working a summer job on campus. He walked by Schaefer’s office every day and became close friends with her. The two remained in touch long after Papazian graduated.

“She was a classy, vibrant person you could talk to about anything at all,” Papazian said. “After speaking with her for a couple of minutes, you feel like you had known her your entire life.”

In 1992, Papazian worked with other former students to raise money for the Dean Joan Metcalf Schaefer Scholarships awarded through the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The scholarship has an endowment of almost $2 million and is awarded annually in the spring.

Papazian added that Schaefer was an icon and role model for many female students.

“She encouraged many alumni of the University to go and become doctors and lawyers when there really wasn’t that kind of support at the time,” Papazian said.

Schaefer also encouraged students to pursue their dreams, Papazian said, by challenging their ideas and making them better people.

Papazian said a memorial is being planned on campus for later this fall.

  • Eileen Paulin

    Dean Joan was the spiritual head of the Trojan Family. Current administration should strive to keep the attitude and approach she had toward all students alive and thriving. Dean Joan is THE definition of The Trojan Family. So alumni have a very special place in our hearts for Dean Joan.