Hearsay and rumors can preclude students from considering women’s colleges. In order to gain more understanding, Olivia and Stephanie, the authors of the following post, share their experiences as students at women’s colleges in different parts of the United States. Olivia currently attends Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA and Stephanie recently graduated from Mills College in Oakland, CA. (The stereotypes are bolded, with each person’s response listed separately.)
1. “It must be full of lesbians.”
I have heard countless permutations on this myth: “So, is everyone a lesbian?” “Y’all must have crazy parties.” “Is anyone straight?” etc. etc.
Mount Holyoke is full of people who understand that difference is beautiful. The community is open-minded and full of some of the most compassionate people I know. It’s a place that invites people to be honest with themselves and with others. As with many marginalized people, non-heterosexual and trans* people often feel safer being open about their identities in safe environments. Because Mount Holyoke is generally a safe(r space than many other spaces), there is a highly visible and vocal queer community. Does this mean that everyone is a lesbian? No. Does Mount Holyoke’s student body have higher percentages of queer-identified students than other colleges? Well, the college doesn’t keep statistics on students’ gender and sexual identities, so I can’t answer that. Does Mount Holyoke have higher percentages of “out” queer students than colleges that aren’t safe spaces for these students? Probably.
1) “You will become a lesbian” – This is probably the most common phrase that I have heard from high school students; mainly guys. Your sexual orientation isn’t something that changes because you are around more women or men. It is true that Mills is very liberal and open about rights for all including the gay/lesbian/bi/trans community and it is important to be open-minded about meeting new people and learning about the struggle for equality for all.
2. “Going to school with all girls must be awful. I hate girls, they’re so catty etc etc.”
Mount Holyoke is full of incredibly diverse and interesting people who come together to live and learn in an environment that fosters collaboration. Of course, some of those people annoy me (because no matter where you are, there will always be people whose personality/values/ways of handling conflict etc. clash with your own), but there are so many more people who inspire me to learn, grow, and expand my horizons.
2) “There are no guys on-campus” – While Mills undergraduate is women-only, the graduate and post-bac prorams are co-ed, and there is co-ed staff and faculty. You honestly don’t notice a difference in terms of “lacking men.” In fact, I have actually noticed a positivity in the difference. I have taken classes with male post-bac students and have found them to be very immature, (despite them being much older) making sexist jokes and remarks. It really opens your eyes to see how smoothly an all-women’s class will run compared to a co-ed one.
3. “Men add something unique and valuable to the classroom experience, and you lose that perspective at women’s colleges.”
This myth assumes that men have some kind of innate intelligence or insight that women lack. It assumes that men add something valuable to a classroom that other people do not add. In my experience, the only perspective that men add to discussions (especially discussions about feminism) is oppressive and often denies my lived experiences.
I’m not saying that I haven’t had interesting, educational, and productive discussions with men. I have. But these conversations were not productive because these people were men. These conversations were productive because they were with fascinating people who had lots of interesting ideas about the world. Being men did not offer them any kind of insight into The Ultimate Truth.
3) “Attending a women’s college will not prepare you for the real world with men” – The opposite occurs in this case. You will learn about topics in social justice related to race/gender/ethnicity/sex/culture/able-ism/orientation/etc. While your learning environment is not primarily co-ed, you will really discover a whole new world when you learn to see the discrepancies in treatment of people. With knowledge, comes sight and even action. Off-campus, it becomes painfully obvious to see the behavior of others in ways you never would’ve noticed before. If anything, attending a women’s college makes you a more intelligent and aware person.