“Seize the Day!” exclaimed one of the presidents of women’s colleges gathered in Social Hall for dinner during the annual meeting of the Women’s College Coalition. We come together once a year to compare notes and plot strategies for the advancement of women’s education and leadership in a world that needs constant reminding of this plain fact: the revolution is far from over.
2010 turned out to be the “year of the woman” in some very unflattering ways — women have lost ground in Congressional seats, women lost major elections, and the most powerful woman in politics — Trinity’s own Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House — lost her gavel in the mid-term elections. Beyond the media glare, the condition and status of women and girls remains perilous in too many parts of our nation. Women’s colleges have contributed to studies on this topic (see the Alverno College 2010 Status of Girls in Wisconsin Report; Trinity partnered with the Washington Area Women’s Foundation on the 2010 Portrait Project on the status of women and girls in the Washington Region). More women’s colleges will be undertaking similar research partnerships in the future.
The 50 women’s colleges in the U.S. today are a forward-thinking group, institutions that have largely broken out of old stereotypes to become some of the most progressive colleges and universities in the nation. Many of us are educating large numbers of women who are the first in their families to go to college, women from low income backgrounds who, in many cases, are also caring for children and families. We talked at this meeting about how women’s colleges could be a more distinctive voice for the large educational needs of women who remain marginalized in this society, as well as be even more assertive about promoting the idea of women’s leadership and true feminism as a social good and community imperative.
With so much criticism of higher education filling today’s headlines, we women’s colleges keep exploring ways to inform the national conversation about models that actually work for students. These institutions —- very diverse in many ways, from the wealthy and elite ‘sister’ colleges like Smith and Wellesley, to the southern women’s colleges like Converse and Hollins, to the diversified urban universities like Trinity and New Rochelle — all have as our central mission the idea that the academic success and intellectual growth of women will redound to the immense benefit of families and communities, improving economic opportunities by promoting strong educational role models who influence children and rising generations.
Thirty years ago, or more, many skeptics wondered if women’s colleges could survive. Today, this hardy group proves that we have not merely survived, we are showing the rest of higher education how to reform curricula and pedagogy for better outcomes for students; how to be institutions of service not only to our campus communities but our larger civic communities as well; and how to be voices of conscience and conviction reminding policymakers and pundits alike that high educational attainment must remain a vital civic goal for our nation — and that the education of girls and women will, most certainly, result in the education of the nation itself for generations to come.
Check out: “Will Mean Politics Scare Off Good Women?” by Peggy Drexler in the Huffington Post
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Check out the discussion “On Success” at www.washingtonpost.com