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Coordinate college system unnecessary and divisive

Published: February 14, 2013, 2:02 am ET
Contributor

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.

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  • Chris

    Thank you for this.

  • Student

    The Honor and Judicial Councils are not actually separated by gender.

  • A

    Fantastic column! Cue the traditionalists spewing insults, homophobia, and misogyny in 3…2…1.

  • Katherine

    Wow. I was really on the fense on how I felt about this system (and by on the fense, I mean I wasn’t sure if I felt indifferent or thought it was negative). This article totally articulates the core issues of the coordinate system. I am convinced this is problematic. Well done.

  • Dan

    The coordinate system plays a very small role on campus. You should find something better to bitch about.

    • Zeroni

      Why doesn’t the “moderation” on this forum moderate for gendered slurs? I thought the general audience for The Collegian was college-aged and above critical thinkers affiliated with the Richmond community who have learned how to communicate effectively without using denigrating language. Shame.

      • Dan

        ^^^Anyone else see the irony? The PC police at this campus has gotten out of control. The real shame is that the administration has capitulated to the whiners.

  • Student

    1. Indeed
    2. The argument in this letter is that the system seperates leadership experiences, so that students are gaining experience working in same-sex leadership organizations, which are not the norm in society today
    3. Dean Boehman and Dean Landphair are both amazing deans. The article says that the students that they advise should not be based on their gender.
    4. Wouldnt this great deal of collaboration be even better with one deans office?

  • Spidas

    Simple question..do we receive state funding as a public university? No. If you want a less traditional school, do not come to Richmond. Why are there a number of students coming to Richmond attempting to be heroes by tearing up superficial traditions? Obviously, prejudice, discrimination, and lack of equality should never exist at UR. Traditions (that essentially mean nothing) are special aspects of private educational institutions in America whether at the secondary or university level.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Holljes/1266649136 Jonathan Holljes

    Brian. That is a great piece you wrote and it is dead on accurate. The University I attended and graduated from in 1980 was in a world where women faced a workplace as portrayed in the movie 9-5 with Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin. I would not say all workplace circumstances have been leveled but it is a whole lot more level than ever before in history. I would have a tough time keeping a straight face answering the questions you face.

  • URSenior

    Richmond College employs women because RC is designated to co-ed dorms. So really, this example is akin to saying “well when we say ‘mankind’ we mean all people– you can’t say the same for the word ‘womankind.’” Yep, hegemonic power is hegemonic.

  • UR for me!

    Can I ask why you came to UR in the first place then? You knew the system has been in place for over 100 years, you more than likely took a tour, you at least looked at the website. What didn’t you understand? I wonder how you can still be a tour guide for UR? Are you telling prospective students not to come here? or lying to keep the paycheck–maybe an ethics class would be in order. I wonder how the Adminssions Office would comment on you being paid to diss UR. Btw, where are you going to school next semester?

  • Sally James

    While I believe the coordinate system has many positive attributes, I wonder if the gender separation has caused an extreme focus on aspects of gender that are not part of the norm since the deans politically correct approach to their jobs has given LGBTQ students a particularly loud voice in programming (Ring Dance). Also, gender studies which was women’s studies now is women, gender and sexuality studies. Really? Looking at the website, it appears to me like this department does more to discuss LGBTQ matters. What a big change.

    BUT this is the REAL reason I wrote: I do find it terribly ironic and a little funny that a male student is writing this article questioning the validity of RC and WC and he even works in Admissions. Brian, I will bet that you have no idea whatsoever that you may actually owe your admission to UR to the coordinate system. I know for a fact that some of your male classmates do. And how do I know this?

    The coordinate system allows the university to discriminate in the admissions process – because an approximate equal number of male and female students are admitted, half to RC and half to WC. Nationally, for some time, there are more women applying to college and those women are, on average, more qualified on paper (grades and test scores).This is true at UR. Look at just about any other university and you will find few if ANY have student bodies that are balanced 50% male/50% female. It’s unheard of. So the coordinate system means the university turns away female applicants who are more qualified than some of the male applicants they must accept to maintain the gender balance. THIS is the best kept secret at the University and the women applicants should be up in arms.

    Oh, an earlier article mentioned that transgendered students had been admitted to UR – quoting the assistant dean I believe. So were they admitted based on their DNA or were they admitted based on their altered sexual organs? I’m guessing they would have applied as male – a much easier road to the acceptance letter. So if the university admitted a transgendered student, wouldn’t that negate their ability to continue to discriminate based on gender? It’s a question that students should absolutely be asking!!!

    • Observant

      Ms. James,
      Before you attack LGBTQ, transgendered, or male students, I suggest you do your research. UR now has a gender ratio of 54/46 women to men. The Class of 2016 (First-Year) was the most female class in a long time–56/44. The admissions office recognizes and embraces that there are more qualified women than men coming to UR.

      Being male does not make it “easier” to get into university. I know you would love to delude yourself with that fantasy, but UR upholds the same standards for women and for men. The coordinate college system *only* kicks in after a student arrives on campus.