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Must Wellesley Go Coed To Survive?


(The authors of this article. Mary Combs '71, Jenny Meyer '72, Evangeline Morphos '71, and Ruth Reisner '71, are undergraduates at Wellesley College.)

THE motion of our times is towards coeducation. The single-sex strongholds of Princeton, Vassar and Yale have capitulated and the pressure of public opinion is forcing other single-sex schools to seriously consider their roles in the academic community.

But the overwhelming public attitude which seems to assume that coeducation is the only revelant and exciting form of academic experience is disturbing. Although coeducation is definitely stimulating, fun and meaningful it does not mean that a woman's education cannot be meaningful, fun and exciting, too.

Wellesley College is currently considering its responsibility to the academic community, now and in the future, in relation to the question of coeducation. Some Wellesley students who like the idea of a college dedicated to the liberal arts education of women are a little amused and greatly disturbed by the untroubled assumption of many people that coeducation is the only answer to the problem of academic responsibility. Coeducation can create as many problems as it can solve; and perhaps some girls really do need the advantages a woman's college can offer them.

This does not mean that complete separation from men is desirable; most girls need and like the company of men. It means that some creative thinking could reveal a more feasible solution and not leave Wellesley in the position of taking in boys, like laundry, in order to support itself.

There are some students who feel that there really is a viable alternative to coeducation at Wellesley. They envision a Wellesley with expanded cross-registration and exchange programs with both men's schools and foreign universities but still maintaining its basic character as a college dedicated to the education of women. Wellesley does have a responsibility to offer a fine education to those girls who do not care for a completely coeducational institution. If Wellesley's problems are approached and solved creatively, a women's college could still be considered a valid and exciting type of educational institution. Wellesley could be more like a women's college in the university complex of Boston than an isolated and secluded girls' school. Wellesley girls could enjoy the benefits of the Boston area and those of a school with an education tailored to their needs.

The main academic advantage of a girls' school is that women are considered the most important students in the college; their education comes first. In many coeducational colleges and universities today the curriculum, of necessity, is planned with the careeroriented male in mind and the needs of the female student, whether she wants a career or not, are largely ignored.

In a school where the education of women is of primary importance, the curriculum can be planned to meet a female's needs whether she be careeroriented or not. The curriculum can be more flexible. Those who wish a career can pick courses which would best prepare them. Those who do not can work out their own programs without having to worry about the structured curriculum of a more specialized preparation.

A girl can major in a field she enjoys but could never excel in or spend time sampling many different fields without having to waste her time fulfilling useless requirements. In this age of increasingly necessary specialization a women's college may remain the only place where a true liberal arts education can survive. Perhaps the noncareer oriented woman is the only person who can afford to be well-rounded.

FOR MANY capable girls, a school primarily for women helps solve another big problem: How can a girl maintain her role as a woman when she is in intense academic competition with men, especially if she is excelling? Many capable girls have faced the frustration of accusations of aggressiveness, lack of femininity and a desire to "beat the boys" when they were in high school and college. Though this problem can never be eliminated, it can be mitigated by having only boys who are exchange students for a year or semester and so do not become long-term competitors or become greatly antagonized by a girl's excellence.

Of course these possibilities are not immediately excluded in a coeducational institution. Nor are all of them part of Wellesley at present. But they are ideals more easily realized at an institution dedicated to the liberal arts education of women than at one primarily concerned with career and graduate preparation.

Although the main purpose of a school is to provide academic excellence and stimulation, the non-academic part of college life is a large part of a college experience. Many people feel that the atmosphere of a girls' school is "unnatural" and without the omnipresent male is no preparation for the world outside of college life. Wellesley is not the type of community a student will find herself in when she graduates. But it is questionable whether any university is preparation for the world outside the academic cloister in the sense that it simulates the "real" world for the student. The concept of living in a community of scholars dedicated to the pursuit of learning and most of whom are very much the same age (young) is not a "natural" situation. Once a student enters the world outside college he must earn a living in an environment of people of all ages and backgrounds.

This does not mean that college is an experience to be avoided just because it is "irrelevant": it is one to be enjoyed. The absence of males makes a college no less "normal" in this respect: it is an even more contrived situation. After graduation most girls will either be living with only one male or in an apartment with other women. In either case, eligible males will not necessarily be present day and night, either around her residence or the place where she works.

If no college has a completely "real" atmosphere, then it is essential that the student recognize this unreality, enjoy as much of it as he cares to, and become involved in some aspect of the real world if this is important to him. Boston is an ideal area to do this in. Anybody who truly wishes to become committed or involved in a non-collegiate activity can do so with a little bit of effort. Wellesley as a school could encourage this type of participation more by making the needs of Boston more generally known and available to the students.

All colleges are "ivory towers" in the sense of being apart from the world around them. But it seems that coed schools are no more relieved of this problem than are girls' schools. It is dangerous to exchange one type of "ivory tower" for another. The college should be seen as one aspect of the world we live in, not as a world in itself. Students in a women's college are just as capable of recognizing this problem and acting on it as any other group of students. Perhaps a Wellesley girl will be more likely to discover the importance of the outside world early since she often must leave the campus to find men.

OF course it is not necessary or desirable that everyone agree with these ideas about women's education in general and Wellesley College in particular. What is needed is a serious evaluation of a validity of the current trend towards coeducation, especially in relation to Wellesley and its future. It is far more important that the problem be considered in terms of the nature of an education than the perhaps overrated importance of a certain type of education. Wellesley College has unique problems and should be able to find unique solutions. If the problems are approached creatively and responsibly the Wellesley of the future will be considered a progressive and excitingly outward looking school, not one which embraced coeducation as a last-ditch effort to survive.

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