The New York Times today features a piece on the decline of women’s colleges, as they (aside from the most selective) move increasingly toward the admission of men. The story revolves around such a decision at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg. Unsurprising, given the path of most single-sex colleges? One might think so, but the level of despair expressed among the student body seems truly shocking:
The week after the board’s decision, about 300 students stayed away from classes, and 200 put in requests to transfer to other institutions, a severe blow for a student body of 712, if they follow through.
Many of the student protestors have been described as teary-eyed. An accompanying photo is particularly bizarre. In it, distraught student protestors sit with tape over their mouths, huddled in postures of supportive lamentation. With all this, you’d think that Randolph-Macon was instituting Sharia law.
In response to the question, “What’s wrong with these students?”, the Times provides little light. It first states that “most women who attend single-sex colleges say they chose their institutions despite the absence of men, not because of it.” How to explain, then, the frenzied reaction on the part of something like half of the student body, who are faced not with a change of institution, but simply with. . . men. In the article, one expert, commenting on the decreasing appeal of single-sex colleges for women, notes:
Women’s colleges often wanted… to present themselves as places where women could thrive without having to compete with men. But that marketing may not work, he said, because potential applicants do not see themselves as needing protection from competition with men.
“Their sense is that the women’s college has something of the broken wing, of women who need a cloistered environment,” he said. “High-performing young women tend to see themselves as high-performing students, and not as students in need of some kind of special care.”
Based on the Times story, a fondness for the cloister seems clearly in evidence… and left mysterious at that. Did the Times ask any students exactly what was tragic? Or find anyone willing to provide a defense of same-sex education? Women’s colleges seem to progressives to occupy a strange place, smacking both of feminism and of traditionalism, and the Times responded accordingly with ambivalence.
It would have been useful to hear more evidence on any count, of why this was to be regretted or celebrated, instead of mere data about applicant perceptions. Either the students are guilty of paranoic misandrony (which would be the easy story, were this a men’s college) or they perceive that some palpable benefit is being lost. The matter was probably ridiculous before this article; it definitely appears so now.