That’s what we used to say back at my “Seven Sisters” college in the 1980s! Every twenty years or so, it seems like even the most elite and well-established women’s colleges have a conversation about going co-ed. Let’s face it–coeducational or historically all-male colleges have much bigger endowments. My sense is that male alumns support their colleges much more generously, because they can. (That is, they can give more because of the wage gap that persists between men and women, plus the fact that few male college graduates drop out of the workforce even temporarily because they married and/or had children.) So, I understand the appeal of admitting male students. (I also understand the value to the endowment of invoking the spectre of co-education for women’s college alumnae. That sure opens up a few moth-eaten old wallets and revs up the donorcycles, eh?)
Well, there’s reason for us old broads to fear co-education at our alma maters, because a women’s college may be “better dead than co-ed.” Susan O’Doherty over at Mama Ph.D. tells the fascinating tale of what happened when her women’s college went co-ed while she was an undergraduate. (This was a follow-up to a post she wrote last week about the idea of applying lower admissions standards to men who apply to competitive colleges, because of the fact that a number of selective colleges have a noticeably skewed sex ratio in favor of women.)
By the time I graduated, there were about thirty men among a student body of 2500. Some of these guys were stellar — bright, committed, enlightened, and fun to be around. Most were not. A number were unprepared for the academic and social challenges of college; a few bragged that they had transferred because “with all these chicks around it should be a piece of cake to get laid.” It was clear to us that there was a double admissions standard. We joked that the entrance exam for men consisted of the ability to sign one’s name, but we didn’t find it funny, really.
There was one men’s dormitory. It was a beautiful old house — one of several on campus; most were reserved for honors students or those with special interests. I lived in one that was dedicated to French-speaking students. It was a privilege to live there, among well cared for antique furnishings, and we were constantly reminded that the privilege could be revoked for bad grades or bad behavior. The men, however, lived under no such strictures. Continue Reading »