Friday, October 08, 2010

Not Equal Opportunity, But Every Opportunity: An Argument For Single-Sex Education

A longer version of this post was written as a talk I gave at a large public university in spring 201 that has a small residential college dedicated to women.  

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes
Photo credit:  Sophia Smith Collection
Picture this. An intelligent and ambitious young woman leaves her home for a women’s college. Upon arrival, she finds a faculty committed to progressive internationalism, free speech, civil rights, feminism and anti-racism. She finds a campus where women are encouraged to pursue careers in the sciences, the arts and to make a difference in public life during an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. Encountering the women and men on the faculty over the four years of her education, often in small seminar classes, she comes to understand what it means to dedicate herself to meaningful work. At a women’s college, this student comes to know, as the President of Mount Holyoke, Joanne Creighton, said to me recently, “what it means for a woman to have the right to be the center of attention.”

Being the center of attention isn’t easy, of course: it’s hard work. This young woman’s peers and teachers push her to argue her ideas with conviction in class and in the dining hall. When she joins the student newspaper, she engages forcefully with global politics, the politics of class and race on campus, and with the institutional challenges that an uncertain economy and a war present for her generation.

This young woman's education will be a platform for her to spend her life in journalism, labor organizing, civil rights, anti-nuclear politics, and feminist institution building, all the while wrestling with the complicated juggling act of combining an intense work life with community service and family. But because of this women’s college, the biographer of this woman will write, she and her generation of women will meet their destiny encouraged “to assume leadership positions and…take themselves, their ideas, and their ambition seriously.” On a campus dedicated to women, they will find “a world unavailable in their hometowns...where girls [can] become young women with a sense of independence from reigning social and political norms.”

The young woman I just described was Bettye Goldstein – perhaps you know her as Betty Friedan, a founder of the National Organization for Women and a Smith College graduate. But I could have been describing a woman leader from any class or racial background. She could have been Pauli Murray, the first African-American woman to graduate from Yale Law School and also a founder of NOW (Hunter College); Madeleine Albright and Hilary Rodham Clinton, the first and second women to be appointed Secretary of State (Wellesley); chemist Patricia Smith Campbell, inventor of the transdermal patch (Douglass); Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female President of Harvard University (Bryn Mawr); or Marian Wright Edelman, founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund (Spelman).

Many graduates of women’s colleges are more like me: trying to live life with integrity, write the best book on the history of feminism to appear in a decade, and thinking about the next career move. I haven’t won the Pulitzer Prize yet (only a few smaller ones), but having attended a school outside Philadelphia, founded in 1888 to prepare women for Bryn Mawr College, let me tell you I was educated to expect prizes. At my all-women’ secondary school, I had the astonishing good luck to be taught by feminists who never told me that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do anything because I was a woman. I had science teachers who responded to questions by creating research projects outside class; a Latin teacher who signed us up for citywide translation contests to make us work harder; a chemistry teacher who wouldn’t let us stop working on the problem sets until they were right; and history teachers who expected that all papers would contain primary research.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s being told, as a woman, that anything was within your grasp if you only tried, was a big deal. It happened only at private school and at the prestigious public Girls High in Philadelphia. Part of how the message of gender equality was conveyed was through rigorous competition and not being permitted to take refuge in any notion of female inferiority or weakness. I remember one moment, famous at our school, when a parent went to the headmistress to complain about an athletic contest played in the rain – something boys did routinely at their schools. It is said that this mother was asked firmly and politely in return: “Are you under the impression that young women melt?”

What I remember most about a single sex education was the assumption that we all would go on to do something significant. The ethic of our school was that women were entitled to labs, and languages, all the spots on the editorial board, all the parts in the play, as much math and science as we could learn, all the class offices and team captaincies, and the best colleges we could get into. The school’s web page says today: “Girls enjoy not just equal opportunity but every opportunity.”

One of the ironies of the educational achievements made by graduates of women's schools, both private and public, was their demise. In the 1970s, feminists made access to formerly male bastions part of their policy agenda. As women like me entered the Ivies, public and Catholic universities, women’s colleges struggled to recruit, and many closed their doors, became coeducational, or were absorbed by male schools as part of a coeducation project.

Arguably, however, something was lost: a set of institutions that nurtured a feminist vision. So tomorrow, let's talk about why there is still an argument for creating and supporting spaces for women's education.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.

45 comments:

Knitting Clio said...

This is a good argument most women can't afford to attend a private women's college (and many can't even afford a state university like mine). I wanted to go to Smith very badly but couldn't afford it. So, I went to the state university (Vermont). I had great feminist mentors there (some of them men) and at the coeducational graduate school I attended.

Anonymous said...

Great point, KC. Class privilege, anyone?

Anonymous said...

You gonna set forth the benefits of single sex education for men as well? Way things are going on the college front, looks like men are the ones who need the extra encouragement these days.

JackDanielsBlack

Historiann said...

Where are these arguments against "class privilege" when it comes to the other elite schools? Once again, women have to apologize for having even a dozen campuses any more that are just for women. Women's colleges are apparently the only colleges that cost more than $30,000 a year. We only ask the women's colleges to apologize for their privilege, beat there breasts and wail because not everyone can afford to attend a women's college.

Bull$hit.

It's comments like these that illustrate the continuing need for women's colleges. If they were truly irrelevant, they wouldn't seem so ominously threatening to so many people. Sounds like it's time to up my contribution to the Annual Fund at Bryn Mawr.

Historiann said...

p.s. to TR: thank you for this post. I look forward to your follow-up, which I am sure will not be bull$hit.

Historiann said...

p.p.s.: Clinton was not the second Sec'y of State--she's the third. Condoleeza Rice was the second.

Anonymous said...

I can see why many feminists support single-sex education, but it isn't clear to me that co-ed institutions can't offer female students many opportunities (if not every opportunity). I chose not to attend a single-sex college because I had come to value the male friendships I had forged in high school, and could not see myself spending my college years primarily surrounded by other women. At a co-ed institution, I did not find it difficult to secure leadership positions or to get involved in campus life in various ways. It certaintly didn't dull my ambitions or reduce my future professional opportunities.

I would also echo Knitting Clio's concerns about the reach of women's colleges. Even if women's colleges offer generous financial aid, they will inevitable fail to reach many of the women who might benefit the most from their tutelage. Here at Red State U, we get far, far more women who are the first in their families to attend college than do women's colleges. They end up at Red State U partly because of cost concerns, but also because they have family responsibilities that many upper middle-class women do not. They help tend to ailing relatives, are helping their Moms with their younger siblings, and often marry young. These women are not going to leave Red State to attend a women's college on the East Coast, and there aren't any women's colleges here.

Anonymous said...

Imagine a man writing the following sentence, which is adapted from TR's post: "On a campus dedicated to [men], they will find 'a world unavailable in their hometowns...where [boys] [can] become young [men] with a sense of independence from reigning social and political norms.'"

The man would be decried as a chauvinist. I'm choking on the hypocrisy in this post.

token undergrad said...

I don't think that *necessarily* follows, Anonymous 9:51. Institutions like Morehouse College *do* still educate men in a single-sex environment, and seem to do it pretty well in a way that works for them.

I had my first sense of thinking it would have been nice to go to a women's college in my sophomore year, when I happened to take an English class with all female students and a female professor. I'm not sure how to explain this without sex-stereotyping, but generally speaking the classroom was a lot less threatening and a lot more intellectually productive than the vast majority of what I've done in college. That said, I've spent most of my life so alienated from all-girls' environments and have had such difficulty making friends with girls that I'm profoundly thankful I live in a time and place with the option to go to a coed university. It's good to have options, whatever your gender.

AYY said...

Historiann,

I don't understand your first comment. If KC couldn't afford Smith then she probably couldn't afford the other elite schools as well, but she wanted to go to Smith, so whether she couldn't afford another elite school wasn't relevant because the issue is whether she could attend Smith.

For all we know Smith might have been chintzier with financial aid than other elite colleges. Then again maybe Smith is a bastion of class privilege. I don't know but I won't rule it out just yet.

Knitting Clio said...

Thanks, AYY. My other point is, why should women's colleges be the only place where women are introduced to feminism and leadership roles? Shouldn't that be a mission of all colleges and universities?

Dr. Koshary said...

Looking forward to reading the next installment of this topic.

Not much looking forward to reading anonymously written comments that seem intentionally to miss the point, but blogging has its price, I guess.

Bardiac said...

I, too, think class privilege is something we should think about in relation to all educational experiences. It's no accident that most powerful people went to school at a relatively few private colleges and universities. But of the powerful women we can probably think of, many weren't educated in co-educational institutions. Why not?

But, I think it's important to remember that TR gave this speech at a public school with an embedded women's residential college. That means that women-centered education can work in a public environment, and that's got some promising potential. I think that's key here, even if most exemplars of women-centered higher ed are private.

And we should probably recognize that there's probably class privilege at that public school, too. My middle class upbringing meant that I couldn't imagine even applying to a private school, but it also meant that I couldn't imagine not going to college, because I'd been tracked into college prep classes from the first. And it meant I had the means to go to a well-supported public school. That wasn't the experience of my schoolmates who lived (literally) on the wrong side of the tracks.

Historiann said...

Bardiac writes, "
But, I think it's important to remember that TR gave this speech at a public school with an embedded women's residential college. That means that women-centered education can work in a public environment, and that's got some promising potential. I think that's key here, even if most exemplars of women-centered higher ed are private."


But Bardiac, no one wants to talk about that. They only want to villify private women's colleges because of their "class privilege," or they want to b!tch about the exclusion of men from publicly supported institutions that preserve a women's college. I guess women's colleges just can't win!

Since I now teach at a large public uni, of course I try to provide open feminist leadership and serve as a feminist role model at my co-ed institution. But there is an important role for women's colleges in higher ed, too, just as there's a role for Catholic unis, Christian colleges, military academies, HBCUs, hippie-dippy colleges, etc. Yet we rarely hear how other private and elite colleges need to address their "class privilege." Somehow that's the first accusation whipped out against the Seven Sisters.

Like I said: women apparently need to solve every other social justice issue in the world before turning to women's issues. Given the fact that women's colleges serve only a tiny minority of college students, I don't understand the burden of expectations for transformation that are being laid on their doorsteps by the commenters here.

Emma said...

I don't understand the burden of expectations for transformation that are being laid on their doorsteps by the commenters here.

It's the burden to transform women-only institutions out of existence in the name of faux equality.

Anonymous said...

I would support state-funded women's colleges, as long as state-funded men's colleges were also provided. I am sure there is a case to be made for all-male education -- fewer distractions, don't have to watch your language, more opportunity for male camaraderie and bonding, etc. Might be a good idea to experiment with this approach at the high-school level as well.

JackDanielsBlack

AYY said...

Historiann,
The way I see it is that Anon 5:19 made a drive by comment, that he or she did not articulate any reason for, the comment contained innuendo and was intended to create an emotional response, perhaps to further an unstated agenda Anon had. In other words Anon 5:19 was a troll. Then you fed the troll.

Class based privilege my foot. Anon 5:19 cited no evidence for it, KC didn't bring that up, and any discussion of it is likely to be unproductive.

Historiann said...

KC wrote, "most women can't afford to attend a private women's college (and many can't even afford a state university like mine). I wanted to go to Smith very badly but couldn't afford it. So, I went to the state university (Vermont).

No, there's no discussion of class privilege implied there at all.

other side of the pond said...

Here in the UK, women-only higher education only hangs on at one Cambridge college, which admits about 100 undergrads a year. When I was younger - and more naive - women only colleges seemed ridiculous and unappealing. Now, in my mid-30s and with a bit of life experience behind me, they are starting to seem like a brilliant idea.

Cordelia Fine's excellent Delusions of Gender cites some interesting research, which showed that by the end of their sophomore year, women at single sex colleges had 'lost [their] implicit disinclination to associate women with leadership, while coed students had become even slower [at associating women and leadership]' (p. 6). She cites this:
http://tiny.cc/1axqm , in case anyone wants to follow it up.

AYY said...

Historiann 1:17
If you have an argument to make, please make it. Snark is not an argument.

Smith College has to pay its employees, its utility bills, the upkeep on its buidings and a whole host of things they don't get state funding for. So of course they and other private schools are going to charge more than state schools.

KC said nothing about class privilege and I have no idea what Anon 5?19 or you might have meant other than that if you have money you can pay for more things that if you less money. You can call that class privilege if you want, but the observation is trivial.

Now maybe KC's point was that Smith isn't spending enough from their endowment. She didn't exacly say that but if you want to read between the lines of what KC wrote to get what's implied, then that's as reasonable a reading as class privilege.

Knitting Clio said...

My point was to use my experience to illustrate that there are economic factors that need to be considered. I didn't mention private coeducational colleges because that wasn't one of the options I was considering at the time.

Adele said...

As a lesbian separatist, I believe women only institutions are essential and should be supported.
Women need to be central on a college campus, and have all the opportunities.

Education with men is a pure living hell. Had I a real choice again, I would choose to go to all girls and women's colleges. I think that girls don't succeed well with boys bullying them.

Odd how all this talk of gay bullying leaves the harassment that boys subject girls to at all co-educational institutions.

When will women start founding hundreds of women only companies, creating our own wealth? Why do we continue to believe that men value women or support our hightest aspirations?

Women have had a long herstory of women only institutions. We don't need male education, we need excellence for all women and girls.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I've been reading this blog for a while but haven't posted. I thought I'd chime in on this one. I went to Smith. Yes, it is an expensive college and many of the folks who attend come from privileged backgrounds. However, Smith's endowment also enables students like me to attend. Because of my aid package I had to pay between $5-6K each year for my education at Smith (x4 years). My local state university was not able to offer me any financial aid and was consequently prohibitively expensive ($15k/year) unless I wanted to attend part time and work full time. On a financial level choosing between Smith and a state school was a no brainer. Perhaps those who are focusing on class privilege with respect to traditionally women's colleges could also consider the ways in which they enable students from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds to attain an excellent education that might not otherwise be a possibility. Without all of those students paying full tuition and without a dedicated alum network willing and able to donate to the endowment, I and countless others would not have received the aid that made Smith (and I'd imagine others among the Seven Sisters) a realizable goal.

-smith grad

Anonymous said...

Came here from Historiann's place. I thought this was a great post. I've been wondering lately what it would have been like to go to a women's college. As it is, I go to a very expensive private coeducational uni, and I wanted to second smith grad's comment about private schools being more affordable than state schools for some students. I absolutely agree that the system is messed up and that we need to fund public universities so they can afford to offer that sort of financial aid, but as it is private schools can be a better option sometimes -my uni, for instance, usually covers my tuition, and this year gave me enough financial aid to pay all my living expenses while studying abroad in Tokyo as well. Discussion of the high tuition at private schools that doesn't take into account the aid wealthy schools can afford to offer conceals that option from students who might have been helped by it. A few of my friends from high school decided not to bother applying to private schools because they believed they would never be able to afford the tuition. Again, I'm not happy with the status quo on this, but I don't think the burden should be on low-income students to change it.

Sorry for drifting so far off-topic, TR. I wish I had something more relevant to contribute.

-Aishlin

sptc said...

I went to UC Berkeley in the 70s and it was great in these terms although no undergraduates got the sort of career mentoring you get at smaller schools unless they really knew how to demand it, which I didn't. This led me to go right to graduate school, where one did get a certain kind of career mentoring (pace my cohort who alleged we were not "professonalized") and more was offered me than I knew how to accept, but this wasn't the school's fault (except on one point, in my experience). Still, I wouldn't trade the experience of going to a large and variegated school for anything else, although that's just me.

My roommate from those days, however, was in science and underwent major harassment for being a woman, and I do mean major; there was every sort of career bar. She was middle class, too much so to qualify for enough need based aid for a private school and not one of those who pulled down *enough* merit based aid to bridge the financial gap, so she had to stay; it was crystal clear, though, that she should have gone to a school more like those described here. Less harassment would mean less trauma and stunting, and there you go.

Knitting Clio said...

Anonymous 8:35 -- things have obviously changed since my twin sister and I were accepted in 1981. Although my parents were far from affluent, Smith did not offer me or my sister any financial aid. UVM didn't offer much either but we were able to borrow enough to pay (there were caps on how much you could borrow under what was then the guaranteed student loan program). It's nice to see that Smith has become more generous.

Doctor Cleveland said...

The first time I taught a college class where every student was a woman, that fact was an accident. But it made me a believer in women's education.

The class happened to be fifteen first-year, first-semester undergraduates, and they had easily the best, most intense and most energetic academic discussions I have ever seen in any classroom. It's an anecdote rather than evidence, but it persuaded me that female undergraduates, at least, are inhibited by their male classmates, and that a classroom of women helps them develop.

Immediately after that class, I would walk across campus to another section covering exactly the same material, with a group of 12 female and 3 male students. And that was excruciating ... almost no one spoke. The young women deferred to the boys, and the boys didn't have anything to say. Disaster.

At the end of the semester, the students in the all-women section wrote in their evaluations that they wished they had had more of a male point of view in discussion. Always be careful what you wish for.

Great post and great series, TR. Sorry about the peanut gallery.

Anonymous said...

"At my all-women’ secondary school, I had the astonishing good luck to be taught by feminists who never told me that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do anything because I was a woman."

I'm a young man educated at co-ed public schools and my state's flagship. I have never, EVER heard (or even heard of) teaching telling girls they couldn't be anything they wanted to be.

At every level of my education, I have seen men and women win prizes and serve in leadership roles in roughly the same numbers -- if anything, more women took the lead. Isn't that the kind of equality to strive for?

I have, however, seen the weight of low expectations weigh upon minority students, particularly young black men. How do we solve that pressing problem?

Anonymous said...

*teachers, not teaching.

trixie dang said...

just gonn be that kid for a second:

i spent elementary school in the lab school for smith's teaching program.
it was, in most ways, wonderful. the vast majority of authority figures i interacted with, through 6th grade, were women, including both principals. with the exception of gym class and sex ed i never had a male teacher.

Having a young, energetic, intelligent woman join onto our class as a "fellow" or a "student teacher" every semester was just how school worked. i never experienced letter grades, detention, or the Pledge of Allegiance. I was under the impression that The Observatory, The Electron Microscope, The Greenhouse, and The Web-Capable Computer Lab were all standard parts of municipal infrastructure for a town of 30,000 in the early 1990s.

like a bunch of other commenters, i've wondered what it would have been like to attend a women's college. Smith College raises girls like me, nurtures our feminist kickassery and sense of justice before shunting us into the miasma of junior high. and Smith & its sisters grant diplomas to a bunch of our close friends, including the ones who're boys by the time they graduate. But they don't admit girls like me.

and i think that bears saying, whenever the conversation gets rolling about how wonderful and nurturing all-women's schools are. i absolutely think they are. and i have a number of really wonderful feminist men in my life who graduated from women's colleges, and i don't mean the Smith School for Social Work. and i have a number of really wonderful, powerful feminist women in my life who never had the chance to go to a women's college, never mind their grades and their test scores, or even their financial situation.

and that has been true and will be true until Women's institutions take a damn hard look at what they mean by "single sex" and who, exactly, they've got to exclude to create their nurturing space.

trixie dang said...

and while i am loath to go trip-trapping o'er the bridge of Mr. Jack Daniels & anonyfriend, i fear they've overlooked one of the most predictable characteristics of residential institutions composed of young men.

i'm speaking, of course, of the productive and near-universal engagement, in such situations, with sodomitical sexuality and/or non-normative gender systems.

Emma said...

I'm a young man educated at co-ed public schools and my state's flagship. I have never, EVER heard (or even heard of) teaching telling girls they couldn't be anything they wanted to be.

Obviously you never had my male science teachers who called all the girls "wenches" and all the boys "studs". But, if it didn't happen to you, I guess it didn't happen. And, of course, men's problems are so much more pressing than women's problems.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you never had my male science teachers who called all the girls "wenches" and all the boys "studs". But, if it didn't happen to you, I guess it didn't happen. And, of course, men's problems are so much more pressing than women's problems.

That's true, I've never had that happen, but I never said that it doesn't happen. But we all form our opinions at least in part on our own experiences, and I have not heard openly sexist comments from any of my teachers at the co-ed schools I've attended.

And I never said men's problems are more pressing than women's problems. That you made such an assumption based on my comment speaks loads about your viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Actually, @Anonymous 12:53, that's exactly what you said: You declared that, in your experience, women have perfect equality in education and sexism at school is a myth. Then you told us that the "real problem" in education is discrimination against minorities--"especially young black men."

So, yeah, you pretty much did say that men's problems are more pressing than women's problems.

Emma said...

and that has been true and will be true until Women's institutions take a damn hard look at what they mean by "single sex" and who, exactly, they've got to exclude to create their nurturing space.

Clearly, males are excluded. And?

Your representation that women's colleges are somehow willy-nilly unaware of the fact that they don't accept males, including those males who identify with some feminine gender, is preposterous. As is your representation that women's colleges haven't thought long and hard about what it means to accept only females and create an insitution only for females.

I see it as being about the includion of females. You see it as being about the exclusion of those number of males who gender-identify a specific way. It's all a matter of perspective, and I fail to see why your perspective is more legitimate than mine.

Anonymous said...

Actually, @Anonymous 12:53, that's exactly what you said: You declared that, in your experience, women have perfect equality in education and sexism at school is a myth. Then you told us that the "real problem" in education is discrimination against minorities--"especially young black men."

So, yeah, you pretty much did say that men's problems are more pressing than women's problems.


Well, let's borrow Emma's logic: "It's all a matter of perspective, and I fail to see why your perspective is more legitimate than mine."

I think the problems facing our urban schools are more important than setting up gender-segregated schools (that is what we're supposed to be talking about, no?) And it is true, is it not, that the people who get the very crappiest end of the stick tend to be young black men? So sue me.

I would hasten to add, however, that improving the quality of opportunity and education in the inner cities--as well as at co-educational universities, particularly state schools and community colleges, were something like 70 percent of our nation's college students are educated--will be of immense benefit to the entire gender spectrum (not to mention the economic and racial spectrum).

And, of course, one of the ways to do this would be to fight bigotry where it exists. For example, sack the sexist teachers and administrators that so many commenters on this board have encountered (I've never heard a teacher call his or her students "studs" and "wenchs," but I'd be pissed off, too, if I were in that class). I suspect this would have a better effect than pulling a John Galt.

I also have selfish reasons. I've truly valued my female peers and what they bring into the classroom. Diversity of opinions and experiences is an essential element to education. Can someone explain to me how single-sex schools further diversity?

Signed Anonymous 12:53 (I like the ring to that!)

Emma said...

Well, let's borrow Emma's logic: "It's all a matter of perspective, and I fail to see why your perspective is more legitimate than mine."

That's a bullshit lie and borders on slander, given the deliberate misreading and willful misrepresentation of what I've actually written that it took to produce that piece of garbage.

Apparently, you believe that us wimmin's is too stupid to catch your lying shenanigans.

Emma said...

And, of course, one of the ways to do this would be to fight bigotry where it exists.

And, of course, we can only do that in ways you approve, in all your mansplainin' glory.

Hey!! Here's a thought! Why don't you go over to some bulletin board discussing HBCUs and their contributions and tell everybody over there that "setting up race segregated schools" is a waste of time and how we really need to "fight bigotry where it exists" so that the African American students who would otherwise benefit from HBCUs can, instead, provide "immense benefit to the entire racial spectrum" by focusing on what works for you instead of what works for them.

Oh, and why don't you tell us how it is that women's colleges don't offer a diversity of opinions and viewpoints?

Anonymous said...

@Emma,

I'm sorry -- what's with the unrelenting hostility of your tone? I really am just stating a different opinion, as respectfully as I possibly can. Did I ever say that your argument is bullshit garbage? Did I call you a liar? Did I ever use words like "mansplainin" and "wimmin's"?

You know a little bit about my background and where I'm coming from (and yes, I'm a man. Hey, blame genetics, not me), but where are you coming from?

-Anon 12:53

Emma said...

The source of my hostility? You. You're the source of my hostility and your continued insistence that women don't count because you say so. I'd have thought that was patently obvious.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Well, as FDR once said, I welcome your hatred, whoever you are.

-Anon 12:53

Emma said...

Nice reversal there, as FDR was speaking to society's powerful when he said that.

Clearly you are ignorant about more than sexism -- you know, things like history and context.

Doctor Cleveland said...

This has been an amazing thread.

I'll admit that I needed my eyes opened to how much resistance there is to the mission of women's colleges. It's shocking to witness. But it also makes a very strong case for why women's colleges are still very, very necessary. If TR hadn't persuaded me, the hostility of some of the commenters toward women's education would have.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with the people stating that women's colleges are wrought with class privilege. I am currently a senior at Mount Holyoke College and I am first generation college student that comes from a lower middle class family. I have many other friends who come from similar situations. I have spoken to fellow students at MHC and at Smith College and there seems to be a general consensus that our schools' financial offices work very hard to ensure that their education is accessible to all economic classes. In fact, I received a better financial aid package here than at any other coed university to which I was accepted.

Additionally, Bardiac writes,
"But of the powerful women we can probably think of, many weren't educated in co-educational institutions. Why not?"

I recommend reading the transcript of the speech given by the new MHC President Lynn Pasquerella from her recent inauguration that highlights some reasons why women's college grads tend to fill higher positions than our coed counterparts. And she also discusses the idea that an image problem rather than class privilege is what dissaudes many girls and women from attending women's colleges, an idea with which I would definitely agree.

I can say from my own experience that my education at Mount Holyoke has benefited me far more than I would ever have believed. I do not discount coeducational institutions in the least; this environment is definitely not meant for everyone. But it was the perfect fit for me and has helped my cultivate my passions, certainty, and sense of self in a way that I wouldn't have been able to comprehend as a senior in high school.

random guy said...

I attend what was-until recently- an all women's college. It leveled off in "popularity", for lack of a better word, after the 60s and 70s when both public and private institutions in local area went co-ed. Many of those were relatively high quality schools, women seem to prefer co-ed places perceived as good to women's institutions. The latter of which were thought, on the whole, to be mediocre in terms of education. While my university has been co-ed for about a decade, it is still about 70% women.

I could complain about various aspects of it but I won't; I'm quite grateful to have been admitted because it is very strong in my area of study. I'm also happy that it isn't dominated by "lesbian separatists" who question the need for male education at all!