I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around what I want to say about this Chatham news for over a week. I’m still not sure my thoughts are terribly coherent, but here it goes….
I attended an all-women’s college. A decision I’ve never regretted despite massive student loan debt. I decided to become a librarian at my small school. I made amazing, incredible, brilliant lifelong friends. I learned that I can survive on my own in a city triple (quadruple? even bigger?) the size of my hometown (though I was protected by my campuses natural barriers to the larger city — you know, big houses and trees).
Prior to making a last minute decision to apply to Chatham (mainly for the mansions as residence halls), I’d never considered a single sex institution. I’d already applied to the University of Central Florida in Orlando and the University of New Orleans. I was pretty sure I’d be going to law school after college, but more than anything I was applying to schools because of their location.
But sometime during my senior year we read The Awakening…. I realized that I could go to a college without silly 18 year-old boys that called girls “feminazis” AND had mansions for dorms (I feel weird typing that instead of residence halls, but when I was 17 that’s what I actually said in my head).
“Why wouldn’t you want to send your daughter to an institution whose sole purpose is to insure the success of women?” she asked, looking my way. “Three percent of women graduating from high school go to women’s colleges, and yet 30 percent of congresswomen went to women’s colleges and 20 percent of the female CEOs. There’s a reason that is the case and that’s why we are still here.” — from Tom Matlock’s 2011 post, Are Women’s Colleges Outdated?
My alma mater, Chatham College, has grown it’s grad program significantly since I graduated. In fact, it isn’t just a “college” anymore. Now it’s Chatham UNIVERSITY and the women’s college I attended is (apparently) known as Chatham College for Women. The school that I graduated from doesn’t seem to exist and that feels even more true now that the option to go co-ed is on the table again.
When I was there between 2001-2005, the school had just (relatively speaking) been “saved” from going co-ed in the 90s by some serious World Ready Women and it seemed to be on the right track. Of course, there was always the rumor of the change to a university because even then the grad programs were seriously touted.
I’m devastated that President Barazzone and the Board of Trustees are even considering this. Despite the statistic that says only 2% of high school girls would consider a single-sex institution, I think it’s a bad decision. (And let’s not forget what they say about statistics…)
The Greater Pittsburgh area is home to approximately 40 colleges & universities. That doesn’t even include the for-profit schools. Chatham is UNIQUE. As far as I know, it’s THE ONLY all-women’s college in the area (and it has mansions for dorms!).
The more I’ve heard though about how the campus is now versus when I was last there nine years ago, the more I realize (again and again) that Chatham is no longer the school I attended. It seems to have completely forgotten about it’s undergraduate program and that thought brings me to tears. I had professors that knew me even though I never took a class with them. I had a team of people to help me through my second semester (after a truly dismal first semester). My tutorial project senior year was mind-boggling and so hard, but it ended up being absolutely worth it.
According to the research, “women’s college respondents reported making more progress in every measure tested,” including “understanding themselves and others,” “general education,” “ability to analyze quantitative problems,” and “desire to contribute to the welfare of the community.” — from Wellesley ‘Sleepwalker’ Uproar: Have Women’s Colleges Outlived Their Purpose?
I just hope that all of the opinions against going co-ed are heard and not dismissed. There are solid arguments on both sides — I was speaking to a co-worker that was appalled by the idea of single-sex colleges even existing still (weird, right?) — though it doesn’t mean I want to hear the side that disagrees with me. After taking a week and reading Reflections from the President one more time, I’m less angry and just sad that she’s turning her back on something she “saved” twenty years ago. Sure she brings up excellent points, but she’s always had a way with words. Just do a search of some of the excellent words she’s shared about how wonderful all-women’s colleges are in the past.
Way back in 1991:
Barazzone pointed to research showing that graduates of women’s colleges are more than twice as likely as graduates of coeducational colleges to receive doctoral degrees.
They are also more likely to go on to positions of distinction in private industry and government, she said.
Asked if women’s colleges reflected an unreal world because they excluded men, Barazzone replied: “I don’t know that living in a man’s world is particularly real, either. It’s important to prepare yourself to live in a balanced world.”
(About that student loan debt I mentioned earlier…it would be interesting to see what would happen if a private college significantly lowered it’s cost. Would the lower price tag attract more students? I’m sure it would bring in a few more than the current average of $30,000 per year. But I could be wrong, I got a C in Economics AND I have student loan debt — clearly I am bad with $$$.)
I don’t know what will happen next. I don’t know what the board and EB will decide. I just hope that one day there’s still a school out there somewhere to provide a place for a girl to learn where she isn’t called a feminazi.