Comments continue to come in sparked by Susan Kinzie’s story in the Washington Post about Trinity’s new program at THE ARC.
A Sister of Notre Dame reflects on this new program: “[Trinity’s] fidelity to our Notre Dame spirit and creativity in furthering the Gospel mission are truly admirable…” St. Julie Billart founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur 200 years ago with a distinctive mission to educate girls, women and the poor. SNDs today work all over the world to establish and sustain schools and other ministries that fulfill this mission. When the SNDs established Trinity in 1897, Catholic women were largely excluded from higher education in this country. Today, Trinity continues to live this historic mission by taking a special interest in women (and men in some programs) who might otherwise be excluded from higher education. While admissions barriers on the basis of gender have vanished with coeducation in most universities, millions of women in this nation and around the world continue to face huge barriers to educational fulfillment as a result of more subtle discrimination rooted in sex, race and social class; or outright oppression, poverty, and violence; and the many responsibilities they bear for their families and employers. Trinity is unique among the universities in Washington in the ways we reach out to women to help them to overcome barriers to education and to achieve intellectual fulfillment.
Of course, this being Trinity, where we encourage every woman’s voice to be strong and sure, some students have expressed other opinions. A student comment I received on my last blog noted that some students at Trinity struggle with their studies, and seem ill-prepared for college life. This student wrote: “Wouldn’t it be better not to let these girls in in the first place, to save both themselves from the setback and the school from monetary losses? … If a student graduates from a public school ill-equipped for college life, then they should seek the services of a community college, who, by being state funded and designed for intermediate level education, meet the need for students not yet ready for college life. We are a private institution, and it is not our function to be a stepping stone. Neither are we a charity case, or a social experiment.”
Well, my goodness. Actually, Trinity is a great social experiment, and has been for more than a century. Women’s education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was truly a grand social experiment, and even today women’s colleges remain counter-cultural and out in front of traditional education in many ways.
But it is true that, like just about every university I can think of, we have some bright and talented students and we have other students who struggle in various ways. Would the students who struggle be better off if they weren’t here at all? Absolutely not. Many of Trinity’s great success stories started out as students with many challenges. If we only had students who were already done with learning, there would be no need for Trinity to continue. Education begins at the point where you admit what you don’t know. Trinity believes deeply that every student deserves an opportunity to learn, and so long as she accepts the rigor and discipline of our educational processes, she will make progress and succeed. Trinity’s great quality resides in the high standards of our faculty and their unwavering commitment to student learning. Every student here has a right to learn from this great faculty, and the opportunity for each student to succeed through hard work and discipline is clear. No one has a right to say that others do not belong.
Here’s a different point of view on the article from a student who is currently studying abroad:
“This semester I am studying abroad [in a] private Jesuit American school in Madrid, Spain. This school has many opportunities which Trinity does not; however, it can in no way compare with the level of education which I received in the past two and a half years at Trinity. I learned from my professors that there is no limit to how much one should educate herself, or how many accomplishments one can achieve. I also learned that, as women, it is imperative that we stand up and speak out when we witness actions or thoughts which are unjust…The Trinity which I attend holds its charm in its diversity, and cannot be pinned down or generalized as one thing or another, its students are from many different countries, and have all decided to have a more serious college experience at an all women’s college.”