The university’s website states that, “The coordinate college system is one of the most distinctive features of the University of Richmond,” and I couldn’t agree more.
As a tour guide, I often face the challenge of explaining the benefits of gender-separated colleges to prospective students and their families, and I constantly find myself having to correct their idea of the real world.
In the real world, I tell them, you live with only one gender. I’m sure you were raised in a traditional household with two fathers and only brothers as I was. I am thankful that the university forced me to live with only men my first year and ensure that 70 percent of upperclassmen housing is single-sex.
In the real world, you work in teams that are comprised only of men. Have you ever heard of men and women working together on teams or in meetings? Of course you haven’t … that would be crazy.
At the University of Richmond, we provide you with extra leadership opportunities to practice your leadership skills in gender-separated honor and judicial councils, senates and student governments. At the University of Richmond we have two deans, one for each gender. Not only does this ensure that I have to share my dean with 1,500 other students rather than 3,000, but also that someone of the opposite gender doesn’t try to help me with my academic or personal problems.
After all, we can’t have two deans, more leadership opportunities and traditions such as Ring Dance, Proclamation Night and Investiture without dividing students into separate colleges by gender. That would be crazy, right?
I propose that it is not.
Society has changed in the 100 years since our coordinate college system was created. Daily personal and professional life now involves interaction between men and women, just as much as it involves interaction with people who are white and black.
By separating student leadership organizations by gender at the University of Richmond, how can we be prepared, as the university’s coordinate college webpage states, “for leadership in [our] careers and personal lives after graduation?”
A popular argument in favor of the separate colleges is the greater number of students involved in student leadership organizations. However, this “greater” participation is not a product of the coordinate college system.
The number of representatives in student government should depend on the number of students at the university. If it takes 80 women to lead Westhampton College and 80 men to lead Richmond College, it takes 160 students to lead the University of Richmond.
Of course, the number of class presidents and treasurers will no longer be doubled, but if we want more of those positions on campus, why not have a president for white men, a president for women from Massachusetts, a president for black business school men and a president for women from the School of Arts and Sciences who are minoring in chemistry?
If we are going to create leadership positions that prepare students for leadership roles in their careers and personal lives after graduation, let’s create leadership roles that challenge us to work with people different from ourselves, including those of the opposite gender.
The description of the coordinate college system on the university’s website explains that the system allows for students to learn about “gender as a construct,” referring to the concept that gender is not biological; rather, that it is created and enforced by society.
Indeed, some studies show that learning about the social construct of gender can be more effective in sex-separated groups, though other studies demonstrate the opposite.
I am not debating the validity of these studies, rather asking why the university cannot separate students to talk about these issues without having two separate colleges. If gender is a social construct, isn’t the separation of students by gender into two different colleges merely reinforcing that construct?
Finally, having two deans at the university is an enormous asset. However, why are the students these deans primarily represent and assist based on gender? What makes a man more qualified to address my personal and academic life than a woman?
Other universities divide their dean’s offices into more concentrated roles, such as a dean for student conduct, health promotion and international education. We divide ours based on student’s identification as a male or female.
I propose that the traditions held dearly by students and alumni remain intact, the number of positions in leadership organizations remain equal and the same amount of support from the university’s deans continue to aid students in their academic and personal lives. These are the qualities and strengths of the University of Richmond that will be critical to our continued success as a top-tier university.
These are not, however, reasons to maintain a system that weakens the quality of student leadership roles, enforces gender’s divisive role in our lives and prohibits the modern development and growth of our deans’ offices, all while alienating individuals for whom gender representation is not black and white.