I attend Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, one of the last all-women’s colleges left standing — and we are currently facing a model change to co-ed. The number of women’s colleges in the U.S. has dropped from 281 in the 1960s, to 34 as of fall 2018. As someone who attends one of these few remaining institutions, it is important for me to share some of the wonderful experiences I have had at an all-women’s college.
Senior year of high school, when I told my friends that I would be attending Converse, I got many reactions, most negative — plus the occasional shoe joke. People would say that it would be too catty and that there would be too much estrogen. Basically, their assumptions boiled down to it being a convent where everybody hated each other. However, I knew before I even arrived on campus that it would not be like that at all.
The summer of 2016, I was at Midtown Music Festival in Atlanta. I had sent my application to Converse a few weeks before and was anxiously awaiting my acceptance letter. During a break at the festival, I got a phone call from my admissions councilor at Converse. She wanted to let me know, before my letter even arrived, that I had been accepted.
After arriving on campus, I was embraced by the women of Converse. Through timeless traditions, I was connected with mentors and lifelong friends, as well as professional networks.
Interactions like these continued to happen before and after I arrived on campus. In and out of the classroom, the women around me showed each other unconditional love and support. Everyone, including the faculty, wanted us to succeed.
In the Classroom
It is statistically proven that, in a co-educational classroom, teachers are more likely to choose men to answer questions and participate in discussion than women. From the time of elementary school, men are taught to be more assertive and vocal in the classroom, and women are taught to sit down and behave. Men are also more likely to be praised for correct knowledge and criticized for bad behavior and women are more likely to be criticized for incorrect knowledge and praised for compliant behavior.
At an all-women’s college, this is not an issue. Women do not have to compete for attention from professors, who, at another institution, would naturally gravitate toward men. Everyone at an all-women’s college is given the chance to speak and share her ideas and are pushed to do so. The curriculum does not allow her to be shy and hide; it forces her to find her voice. That way, when she enters the workforce and is compelled to interact with men in a professional environment, she is able to hold her own instead of being passed over.
Is It a Convent?
Another misperception about all-women’s colleges is that they are convents. People tend to assume that it will be a walled community with strict regulations on its female residents, but this is not true — quite the opposite, in fact. Women are allowed to roam, pretty much freely, although there are more restrictions on men, particularly male guests.
Restrictions on male guests include having an escort on campus, especially in the dorms. All guests must be signed into and out of dorms, for their safety as well as the safety of the residents. There are restrictions on how late a male guest may stay on campus, and they may only stay overnight for a limited number of times, and only with the host’s roommate’s permission.
The goal is for the campus to be a safe space for women. Residents do not have to fear walking around campus after dark or worry about being harmed in their dorms. There are 24/7 campus security patrols, and they will even drive you to your dorm on the off chance you do feel unsafe (or if it’s raining).
Because Converse is in the South, it is also assumed that everyone is “Southern pearls,” meaning everyone looks, dresses and acts in the same way. However, the student body is very diverse. There are people from all faiths, from Christianity to Wicca, as well as atheists.
There are individuals of varying sexualities and gender identities, including trans men and women. It gets a little difficult for trans men because of the school guidelines, but their pronouns and identities are always acknowledged and respected.
There is also a diverse political background, although those conservatively-minded might feel like they are in the minority.
Another assumption of homogeny is that everyone is a “feminazi,” or that everyone hates men. However, that is far from the truth. Most of the women on campus argue for female equality, not superiority. The majority mindset is that women should be treated equally in all fields. They argue for decreasing the wage gap and increasing opportunities and recognition for women in the professional world.
They do not argue that women are better than men, or that men are garbage, or that women should take over the world (although sometimes they joke). However, they do recognize that there are gender inequalities, and they work hard to gain their degrees so they can go into the world and combat those inequalities.
All-women’s colleges are not institutions of negativity or oppression. They are one of the few entirely safe spaces for women to learn, to grow and to find their voice. They provide them with opportunities to develop skills they wouldn’t elsewhere, with the goal of sending them off to succeed. The amount of support I have found on this campus has given me a level of confidence I wouldn’t have gained anywhere else.
The truth about all-women’s colleges needs to be shared, so that instead of seeing a decline, we see a growth over the next few decades — so our daughters and our granddaughters and our great-granddaughters will have the opportunity to join a sisterhood that spans generations.