There’s a ubiquitous meme causing comedic-havoc on Facebook. It depicts an array of topics, from individuals to institutions, based on the perspective of friends, mom’s, bosses and three others. One of the most popular memes focuses on women’s colleges.
The imagery is hilarious, but it also highlights how diverse – and sometimes inaccurate – perceptions of women’s colleges are.
I am often asked why I chose to attend and graduate from Bennett College, a historical black institution for women of color. The answer is complex and involves a mixture of CNN, Dr. Julianne Malveaux and scholarships, but the freedom and doubt from which the question is posed is the issue. The real question should be: Why not?
Women’s colleges are rooted in traditions that promote empowerment, sisterhood, and the intelligence of women. Some might question the relevance of women’s colleges in a society where women are making strides toward gender parity, but statistics show that women’s colleges such as Bennett and Spelman College are responsible for sending over 50 percent of Black women to graduate programs in the sciences.
Women’s colleges encourage students to thrive and excel in leadership positions often reserved for men on co-ed campuses.
Elisabeth Pfeiffer, a student at Scripps College, a women’s institution in Claremont, Calif., found a plethora of leadership positions at her institution.
I think Scripps has inspired its students to recognize the abilities they have, and further develop them with more confidence, becoming passionate leaders in their fields. I am currently president of two clubs on campus, which I both founded. I also helped to organize a food for thought speaker series for my food politics class and hope to plan more sustainability events on campus in the future.
Before coming to Scripps, I never envisioned that I would take on such leadership roles. Maybe I could have done the same at a co-ed campus, but I’m not so sure. It may not be widely known, but women’s colleges have been known to instill a sense of leadership in their students.
She also makes a valid point regarding the alum that women’s colleges produce. Pfeiffer writes, “graduates of women’s colleges comprise more than 20 percent of women in Congress and are 30 percent of a Businessweek list of rising women in corporate America.”
Women colleges produce phenomenal alum with the confidence to tackle their respective fields with no fear of male competition. The insulated bubble of brilliant students, professors, administrators and staff offers women an emotional stability often not afforded at co-ed institutions.
Studies have proven that all-women institutions are beneficial to the emotional stability and intellectual capability of women in five key ways: smaller class sizes promotes participation, the environments are conducive to high self-esteem, satisfaction is increased when students connect with other women, graduation rates are higher, and the promotion of traditional male disciplines (i.e. the sciences), enables women to earn more in their lifetime when they attend all-women institutions.
All-women institutions provide women with a voice and the confidence to thrive in a male-dominated world.
Women’s colleges are considered academic convents for many that misunderstand their purpose. This, combined with lower enrollment and lack of funding, has forced some institutions to consider co-educational enrollment or risk closure. Wilson College in Chambersburg, Penn. is now co-ed after fiscal and managerial issues resulted in major budget deficits. Enrolling men increased retention numbers and kept the college from closing.
The number of women’s college is also shrinking. There are fewer than 50 left in the United States. But as Forbes contributor Rachel Hennessey points out, there are few spaces as inclusive as colleges dedicated to the progress of women.
A women’s college is not a place where students “hide out to collectively agonize” over gender issues. It’s a place where students encourage one another to be educated about feminist history. It’s a place where students dare to defy gender norms. It’s a place where students come to engage in leadership roles that they may not otherwise have had access to.
Physical and social separation from men is not the goal of a women’s college; today almost all are in consortiums or close proximity to co-ed colleges. The goal is to foster a community in which women have greater access to engage in a variety of opportunities. Of course women can rise to leadership roles in co-ed environments too. Attending a women’s college is simply one of many avenues — a fit for some and not others — by which to reach the mutual goal of all females: social equality.