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For Betsy and Ralph Perry, An Oxy Endowed Scholarship Is “A Big Positive All Around”

Scholarship recipient with Ralph and Betsy Perry at a luncheon

Scholarship recipient Erica Martin ‘10, a history major from El Paso, Texas, is flanked by Ralph and Betsy Perry at an Oxy scholarship luncheon in February 2010.

During Betsy Perry’s 19 years as an adjunct professor of history at Oxy, she loved the opportunity to design new courses that would be most impactful for students. In the wake of 9/11, she expanded the focus of history courses to be more inclusive of other identities and backgrounds. She designed the course Medieval Mediterranean—World Conflict in Coexistence, which allowed students to explore the impact of this period in history and our world today. She loved the opportunity to be involved with collaborative interdisciplinary teaching and treasured mutual learning from students and faculty alike.

In her classes, Betsy incorporated visits to mosques, museums, and a particular Franciscan monk who supports homeless Latino men in East L.A. “History is not dead,” she says, “and many of our legacies for the next generation can help in life and getting through college.” Her academic history is testament to her commitment to providing the unique experience of an Occidental education to students.

Betsy and her husband, Ralph, both attended school with the aid of scholarships and acknowledge the great educations they received. The Perrys understand the importance of affording students that same opportunity. Although neither attended Occidental, Betsy explains, it was Ralph who suggested setting up an endowed scholarship at the College following her retirement to honor her time at Oxy. The Perrys have continued to add to the scholarship, in addition to designating a gift to Oxy through their retirement plan.

Betsy attended Washington State University for her undergraduate degree and took a year off while applying to graduate studies at Stanford University. In that year, she worked as an airline attendant, an experience she remembers fondly. At Stanford studying history, she met her husband, Ralph, a student of Harvard University and then Stanford Law School, where they fell in love. They were married and had two children. Betsy delayed finishing her master’s degree to raise her children and support Ralph while he finished his law degree. Betsy completed her Ph.D. in history at UCLA when their children were teenagers.

When setting up their scholarship, the Perrys decided to give preference to those who were first-generation college students, with an additional preference for history majors. Betsy values lunches with the scholarship recipients to grasp the extent of the impact of their philanthropy. One senior she met studied women in Nazi internment camps for her thesis. “One of the best things about history is getting in touch with the people who lived at that time,” she adds.

The author of six books and numerous articles and essays on women’s history and marginality in early modern Spain, Betsy is currently writing a novel about some of the characters that she has met through reading and research as a historian. She tries “to give them flesh and blood, and it’s really a lot of fun.” Betsy loves “digging up people who are rarely mentioned” that she refers to as “the forgotten people,” to provide a more complete picture of the time. She especially loves the underworld of Seville, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar for a year. She brought her two children that same year to Spain—a tumultuous time for the country, during which dictator Francisco Franco died—and Ralph visited often.

The Perrys are incredibly excited for the recipients of the scholarship. “In giving, we receive,” Ralph says. Although neither Betsy nor Ralph are alumni, they are in the position to financially support the College, knowing that it is a good cause. “It’s a big positive all the way around. It is a truly wonderful feeling that you have young people who are going to get to college and stay in college and learn a whole lot about the world, and then make a contribution,” Ralph says. “Our parents didn’t have the wherewithal to afford the schools we attended, and it just simply is a wonderful feeling to be able to give back.”