The Lesley College 'Hang-Up': It's So Near and Yet So Far From 'Sophisticated' Harvard

The girls of Lesley College, that little island within the huge Harvard ocean, suffer from a hang-up. It's a strange condition best described by some of its manifestations. They include:

* her embarrassed look when she tells a Harvard man she goes to Lesley, after she's asked him to guess where she goes to school and he's guessed Wellesley or Smith;

* her uneasiness as he sneers, "Oh, Lesleeey," after she has told him.

* and her fiery challenge to a Harvard date to prove that he is not making fun of her non-Harvard type College Boards.

Unfortunately, the Harvard men who see this behavior do not realize that it is a result of their own sneering, not a cause for it. And the worst of it is that the Harvard men who cause this hang-up really don't know what they are talking about.

But this doesn't keep them from talking. Everyone has heard of someone's older brother's roommate who once had nothing to do so he called up a Lesley dorm and. . . .

Unfair Judgment

The characterization is an unfair one; which poor Lesley bears mainly because of its smallness and its proximity. Lesley College is a four-year girls school whose purpose, according to its official catalogue, "is to educate young women and to prepare them to be effective teachers for the elementary school, the kindergarten, and the nursery school."

The special study of elementary education is one of Lesley's distinctions. The college is highly regarded in its field; and in addition to its regular program Lesley maintains three teaching schools and is currently conducting several exciting, experimental programs in teaching the underprivileged and mentally retarded.

Except for the emphasis in elementary education, Lesley is probably very much like any other American girls school. The dean of students sees the current enrollment of 536 as middle-to-upper class in background. (Tuition is a healthy $1600 a year for students in residence. The total basic fixed costs for resident students are $2690 a year.) And when you are confronted by eight smiling, giggling, Lesley girls, it's obvious that they are the same type of girls who go to any other college. Except Radcliffe, of course.

The eight Lesley girls -- Sharon Clifford '70, Beesie George '70, Sue Geller '67, Jo Anne D'Amato '69, Linda Wickeri '69, Sandy Lindell '67, Judy Johnson '68, and Fran Drier '68 -- all agreed that Lesley was just what they wanted.

And it was clear that they enjoyed Lesley. "The school is not very good-looking, but it's got lots of atmosphere," Sharon said. Lesley suffers only in its relation with Harvard and the girls all saw one reason for that -- the misinformed attitudes of Harvard men.

But the cynical mind wonders if the girls didn't actually come here for the social life and the famous MRS. degree. Every college girl thinks of marriage sometime, but was the idea of a Harvard marriage the Lesley lure?

"I have to admit I thought of it," said Sharon, and the others concurred. But they didn't seem to be as intrigued by the prospect as their parents are and as they were before they came to Cambridge. Jo Anne leads tours for prospective students and their families. "When I show parents Harvard Law, their eyes light up," she said.

So the girls come aware of their own goals and the social opportunities, then the shock comes. A Lesley girls meets a Harvard man, tells him where she goes to school and he says, in the words of one of the girls, "Oh my God, a school teacher -- Ding Dong School." Soon Lesley upperclassmen clue the new girls in to the fact that Harvard men have pretty strange notions about Lesley girls.

"Well I really don't want to say it but [Harvard men seem to think] we're either stupid or want to jump in. bed or something," one of the girls commented.

The girls had a number of suggestions as to why Harvard men feel as they do about Lesley. Lesley, they explained, is not a big "prestige" school, but it's surrounded by them. "We're just dwarfed by those tzig schools," Fran noted. The girls pointed out that Lesley freshmen are required to wear beanies during the traditional Fall hazing. This is a custom followed at many girls colleges, but only at Lesley must the beanie-wearing freshmen romp through "sophisticated" Harvard Yard.

Lesley girls have their own false stereotype about Harvard men as the remark about "sophisticated" Harvard Yard indicates. There are two types of Harvard men, Jo Anne said with the smiling assent of the others. Either he's a clean-cut, with a black umbrella and a scarf (in a word, "preppie"), or he hasn't had a bath since September and he smells like it.

It's a two-way street, obviously, and in this case of mutual alienation, the Lesley girl turns away from what should have been the normal center of her social life, Harvard, and looks elsewhere -- namely, Tufts.

The Lesley girls who are dating steadily are almost all dating Tufts men, the girls said. Tufts men give them the chance that has been denied them by Harvard men, and only Harvard men. As a result the girls' feelings about Tufts were quite favorable. To wit: "very nice and great dates." (Their images of students at other colleges are interesting. M.I.T. men are "very intellectual and--you know" said with a giggle and a wave of the hand, B.U. men are "sort of neutral," and Cliffies, like Harvard men, are divided into two types, long-haired with rimless glasses and a book bag, or dressed for a debutante ball.)

There are also Harvard graduate students. The Law students are stereotyped as very intense and perpetually accompanied by a brief case. But, in general, the grad students rate high, especially if they didn't go to Harvard College. These men, the girls feel, lack the undergraduate's sneering attitude and thus will take out a Lesley girl readily, also while showering her with Harvard's social advantages.

More Mature Men

And, of course, they are older and more mature than the College boys but that is an old, non-Lesley, non-Harvard story. Older men marry sooner. That's strictly a "non-hang-up" reason for preferring the grad students. One girl estimated that 75 per cent of the senior class is engaged; others disputed that figure but agreed that at least half the class was engaged. This is not unlike most other girls' schools.

The situation then is that Lesley girls are very much like all other college girls; many Harvard men, however, don't seem to believe this. The girls said they did see a crack in the Harvard glacier, though. Judy told about her freshmen year when her residence advisor and a Harvard proctor whom the advisor knew arranged a series of parties. The two groups became great friends and dates. They still see each other, Judy said.

The other girls also knew of Harvard men who took the time to meet and date Lesley girls. These men are probably too fearful to reveal it to the rest of the college, and they probably don't realize they are not alone. But the group is slowly growing larger each day.

The Lesley girls are all around us. (The girls all admitted using Harvard libraries regularly; they can't wait until Lamont opens to girls.) It's clearly time to re-think the matter.

The tide is already turning slowly, soon Harvard's "frame-up" of Lesley will end. And when that happens, the sad Lesley "hang-up" will disappear.