Separate by Degree: Women Students' Experiences in Single-Sex and Coeducational Colleges

Separate by Degree: Women Students' Experiences in Single-Sex and Coeducational Colleges

Separate by Degree: Women Students' Experiences in Single-Sex and Coeducational Colleges

Separate by Degree: Women Students' Experiences in Single-Sex and Coeducational Colleges

Excerpt

Women's colleges have always lived under a banner of controversy. At their founding they were regarded in many circles as dangerous institutions, shaping women in ways thought to be unseemly. Recipients of curious speculation as well as harsh criticism, their very presence questioned an old world order. While their early history can be characterized as steeped in a fair amount of paternalism, the mere fact of their existence opened wide the path to higher education for women.

As they developed and became an important part of American higher education, stereotypes have often been used to describe them. Nunneries, places for wallflowers, schools for rich girls, hotbeds of feminism or radical lesbianism, institutions of loose women or man haters--all these epithets, in a self-contradictory way, fill the annals of discourse about women's colleges. These characterizations border on amusing, but they have also been damaging in their ability to obscure the educational value of women's colleges and to confuse, if not terrify, potential applicants.

In this book Leslie Miller-Bernal seeks to move beyond stereotypes by offering us a comparative study of four liberal arts colleges: Wells, a standalone women's college; William Smith, a coordinate women's college; Hamilton, which absorbed its women's college; and Middlebury, which added women to its male population to become coeducational. By examining the history of each, she helps us understand more clearly the issues and arguments affecting higher education for women. By offering a longitudinal survey of the women who enrolled in the class of 1988 at each institution, she provides us with significant insight into how these women viewed themselves and how the educational environments they chose affected them. This survey, which contrasts the perspectives and experiences of a sample of women at all four institutions, allows the author to conclude that women's colleges benefit women students in the support . . .

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