Monday, September 25, 2006


Since a good work friend has a daughter in the junior class at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, I have been following, blow by blow, the decision of the trustees to admit men, and the students' reaction. Students objecting to the change have expressed themselves through letters, demonstrations, protest t-shirts, a hunger strike, and by trying to sue. (After all, at least some of the first-years must have selected RMWC because it is a women's college.)

My first reaction, I suppose, was realistic resignation: Yeah, I could see that happening to another of the smaller women's colleges. After all, it is a girls-gone-wild era. I recall an interview show (Oprah, I think) featuring Boomer and X'er women shaking their heads at the giant step back such behavior represents for equality and feminism, while the under 25 set argued that their focus on pleasing men makes them liberated. These young women, I know, don't want to go to school without men, and they represent income for colleges and universities of all types. It's hopeless, I figured.

This weekend, I read about a two-year men's college, Deep Springs, in Dana Goodyear's "The Searchers" (9/4 New Yorker), and it refocused me on the positive outcomes of single-sex education. One of the things we often extol in women's colleges is the chance for women to fill all the roles: not just secretary, but also president. The editor of the paper, the star athlete, the best grades, every D.J. -- all women. Given that, it's odd I hadn't considered the reverse: what's it like when men fill all the roles? Of course, Deep Springs College has unique expectations, and since it does, men do "manly" chores on the school's ranch, and also "womanish" chores like milking, cooking, and cleaning. The wife of an alumnus noted that the students were also freer to take on "female" behaviors "like being a good friend and listening and crying" and that this "remove[d] some of the gendering from those things." Hey, that sounds like a good thing for our world. Maybe RMWC's trustees need to think about serving men only.

Additional Reading:
- "dozens of women's colleges ... are stronger than ever" -- comments by the chair of the Women's College Coalition, summer 2006
- a review of an apparently thin but charming book on college and women in the New York Times
- Quotation I found pinned on my bulletin board from a not-too-old Alumnae Quarterly, from former MHC President, Liz Kennan '60: "'After the Ivy League and other colls. went coed in the '70s, there was an expectation that the world of equality had come, that there would have be a level playing field for men and women in educ. But in fact, the stereotypes have not been broken. The millennium has not come for women's educ. in a coeducational setting.'"


Georgi said...

I'm sure that women who are searching for colleges do not initially look at women's colleges. I know that when I was searching for schools, that wasn't my first choice. But after you visit a school (like Hollins University, where I graduated from), you get sucked into the culture and the excitement. An all-girls school gave me unique opportunities that I would not have gotten if I had gone to a co-ed school. I'm not just talking about wearing PJs to class (which I never did). In my classes, we could really talk about isms and understand how they created barriers to accessing opportunity in the world. We also learned how to address our own isms as they relate to the way that we relate to the world. But more than that, we were in a place where women achieved great things - in every aspect of life. And there was never a moment when I had to doubt that I could do amazing things. I had hundreds of years of alumnae before me who went on to achieve great success and represented a level of achievement that we all had access to - not because we're women, but because we are individuals who were able to discover increased value in our lives because we are women. I will always be a HUGE advocate of single-sex education and am so sad to see RMWC head toward changing their history of single-sex education.

Lisa said...

Well said, G.A.

As a follow-up, do read a review of College Girls in the NY Times Book Review. The review considers early views of higher ed for women, and nods at zany traditions, including one at W&M. It should be online starting this weekend - search that link by title; or go to you library and read it on paper!