WHEN environmental activist Helen Caldicott came to Claremont McKenna College last month, students had a chance to really get to know her. The Women's Forum, a group of students and faculty who meet here regularly, requested that a small question-and-answer session be held in the afternoon before the evening's dinner and scheduled speech.
Jil H. Stark, director of the Athenaeum, which sponsored Dr. Caldicott's visit, arranged for a 4 p.m. meeting. ``I don't line it up unless a student comes to me because if I do all the work no one feels responsible except for me - and that's foolish,'' Mrs. Stark says.
That afternoon, a group of about 25 students and faculty - mostly but not exclusively female - cluster around Caldicott on plush couches and chairs in one of the dimly lit Athenaeum sitting rooms. Caldicott welcomes the opportunity to talk intimately with students. She begins to tell them candidly about her life, focusing on the particular challenges of being a woman in the male-dominated society of Australia.
In the process, she gives the students subtle advice and prompts them to pursue particular intellectual activities. ``You've got to read this book,'' she says. ```The Female Eunuch' by Germaine Greer changed my life.''
She talks about the joy of having children and staying home to raise them. ``You think that it's forever, and it's not,'' she says of having young children at home. ``Treasure it. It's more important than any work that you do. It is the work that you do.''
But sometimes it's a necessity for both parents to work, suggests one student defiantly. ``Yes, but it's very sad,'' replies Caldicott, with a rueful tone.
Toward the end of the hour-long discussion, Caldicott laments the stagnation of the peace movement in the United States. A student asks, ``Do you think there's any chance for change?'' Caldicott smiles and responds, ``It's up to you, baby.''
Once the questions stop coming, Caldicott tells the group, ``What I talked about today was very personal, but tonight we're going to talk about the cold, hard issues.'' She was right.
Standing in front of about 400 people that evening, Caldicott lectured on the destruction of the planet. The extended talk and question-and-answer session didn't come close to producing the powerful effect of an hour spent honestly exploring the ins and outs of life's travails.