(Photos by Ann Pauley: Trinity students and faculty with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (blue jacket) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi ’62 in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol at event honoring women on the Supreme Court as part of Women’s History Month, March 18, 2015)
The photo says it all: WHY women’s colleges matter, WHY Trinity sisterhood is powerful, HOW the “Old Girls’ Network” connects women across generations and positions to lift as we climb, to foster leadership and courage in each succeeding generation. Trinity Alumna Nancy Pelosi, Class of 1962, the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives and first and only woman to be Speaker of the house always takes care of her Trinity Sisters. To mark Women’s History Month, Leader Pelosi threw a party to honor the women justices on the Supreme Court: Justice Elena Kagan (blue jacket, above), Justice Sonya Sotomayor (photo below, with Trinity students Anna Roland and Hareth Andrade) and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Leader Pelosi invited Trinity students to be part of the event — a great example of a role model, a powerful woman reaching out to help other women set their sights on high achievement.
Fostering leadership ability, self-confidence and the intellectual prowess to be outstanding leaders in the community and across many professions is the historic and still-urgent mission of Trinity and other women’s colleges. Trinity leaders in all communities and walks of life have been hugely successful for 118 years — and Trinity aims to keep that ball rolling for at least another century or more! Looking at our students seizing the moment at the podium in Statuary Hall, below, I have no doubt that they will succeed, and so will Trinity!
Women’s colleges have been in the news recently because of the sad announcement from Sweet Briar College in Virginia that the trustees of that venerable women’s college have decided to close after this academic year. That’s very sad for Sweet Briar, but not at all indicative of the future for Trinity or other historic women’s colleges that are thriving. Trinity took steps years ago to diversify programming, creating the university model, and refocusing our historic mission on the women who could benefit most from this powerful mission. Trinity’s women’s college (the College of Arts & Sciences) has more than tripled in size since I became president in 1989, from 300 students then to nearly 1100 today. The entire institution has more than doubled in size with the addition of many graduate and professional programs. We’re building that beautiful new academic center next because we’ve outgrown our old buildings and truly need 21st Century learning environments, especially for the sciences and health professions.
Facts are important, but often overlooked in the current popular discussion of women’s colleges. One college closes, and the pundits say it spells doom for all. Not true!! Of the 40+ women’s colleges operating today nearly 65% have actually grown in the last 10 years, defying the naysayers who say this sector is declining. Of the original 230 women’s colleges in 1960, about 90 closed or merged — most of them very small Catholic women’s colleges that not only had large populations of religious sisters as students, but also who relied on the free labor (“contributed services”) of the nuns on the staff. The economic model for the Catholic institutions was always unusual. When the Church went through progressive changes as a result of Vatican II in the 1960’s, many sisters left their orders, leaving the schools without the free labor. This affected not only the Catholic women’s colleges, but also the Catholic schools in cities — the Church could not afford to replace the nuns with paid staff in all of those schools. Trinity is one of the Catholic institutions that weathered the economic downturn and rebuilt its financial model without reliance on contributed services. Trinity experienced some very lean years but, in the end, the model we built in the 1990’s is strong and durable. Our balance sheet now exceeds $100 million in worth, and we operate in the black.
For the larger group of historic women’s colleges, of the original 230, about 140 remain, with about 40 of those maintaining women’s colleges and the others being fully coeducational. However, even those that are fully coed are about 70% female. The mission to educate women remains central for all of these historic schools. Additionally, sustaining a strong central mission in women’s education does not need to be hostile to men, and as we do at Trinity, many of the 40+ women’s colleges today enroll men in some programs. The focus on equity and justice that is inherent in the women’s college mission proclaims values that also work for male students who understand and respect this mission.
I’ve had more to say about these issues recently in a blog I wrote on the Huffington Post, Disrupting the Daisy Chain: What Modern Women’s Colleges Really Do and also a recent interview with Molly Greenberg in an online magazine called DCInno “The Sweet Briar Story Could have been Trinity’s”
We’re also building a web page with resources about women’s colleges and institutional innovation
What does Trinity’s mission as a women’s college mean to you? Make a comment by clicking below or send me an email email@example.com and I will publish your thoughts…
(White House Photo of “The Trinity Sisters” in the Washington Monthly)