Welcome to the Chatham sisterhood, future Cougar! Every week this summer, look for new advice from Chatham women who can't wait to see you on campus.
Have a question you hope we'll answer or a topic you'd like us to cover? Email Campus Correspondent Mara Flanagan (email@example.com)!
HC writers such as Elana Altman of Wellesley and Rachel Peck of Barnard give great examples of what to expect at a women's college. Now, we're giving you the Dos and Don'ts of surviving your first year at Chatham.
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DO embrace your nervousness.
For many students, the women's college environment isn't something they're one hundred percent sure they'll love. "As a student coming from a co-ed public high school, I had a healthy amount of skepticism when it came to making the transition to a single-sex institution," says Shannon. "In fact, the 'all-female' aspect was the one and only thing that I was not sure I would like about Chatham."
The reality is that for many incoming students, Chatham is unlike any learning experience they've had. Some find it's not for them; others find it's home. The important thing to remember is that there's no pressure. You can try the food, tour the dorms and sit in on a class months before you make your decision, but it's almost impossible to test out life at a women's college before you get there. Move in with the comfort of knowing that nearly everyone has the same reservations you do; chances are, with an open mind, you'll find your place.
Though Stephanie picked Chatham partially because it’s a women’s college, even she was surprised by how easy it feels to have ladies in the classroom. “It wasn’t strange or different at all,” she says. “Chatham students are so diverse, so the dynamic of a variegated environment was very much present.” Shannon agrees: “I think the thing that surprised me most about single-sex education was that it was really not all that different from co-ed education.”
It’s true: while boys were common in many high school classrooms, the shift to a women's college isn't as drastic as you might expect. “People always ask me what it’s like to be in a classroom of only females, but in all honesty, I don’t notice that often,” says Gretchen. “They’re just my classmates.”
DON'T fight the empowerment.
As many women's college students and graduates note, feminism is an important part of going to a women’s college. By the end of your first year, you'll have signed more petitions and learned more statistics than you ever have before. “I think what surprised me most was the male teachers who talked about women’s empowerment and women’s lib,” says Catherine. “That was unexpected!”
The conversation definitely goes beyond feminism. “Women’s rights issues, environmental issues, and other various social issues are at the forefront of Chatham’s global and local mission,” says Stephanie. “It is so refreshing to be surrounded by a group of women who are either already or soon-to-be distinguished figures in the ongoing fight for equal rights.”
DO take action.
“Chatham is a small school, so it’s really a privilege to become accustomed to seeing the faces of women who are doing so much for their communities and the world and yet are barely breaking into their 20s and their world of personal issues that naturally come along with the college experience,” says Stephanie. From F.A.C.E. to the Stay Positive Campaign, Cougars champion efforts to connect the campus to causes they care about. Chatham even hosts events, including the Women of the World (W.O.W.) Retreat and NEW Leadership Pennsylvania, that propel women into action. “Despite having a rocky first year, I found myself very encouraged by the amazing accomplishments my friends and peers are achieving constantly, and I therefore feel more empowered than ever to make something out of myself,” says Alex. “Chatham makes me feel like I am important, that I have a voice, and that I should do something with it to help make this world a more beautiful place.”
DON'T get trapped in the bubble.
Whether you’re looking for a couple of guy friends or hoping for romance, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to connect with the opposite sex. “Some of my close friends in high school were boys, and I thought that going to a women’s college would not offer the same diversity,” says Shannon. “In the end, it turned out that Chatham is close enough…to other colleges that there are plenty of guys around—they’re just not in undergrad classes—so it was really not a problem at all.”
Of course, meeting guys as a first year can be difficult. Though Chatham has male grad students, you’ll likely have to go off-campus to really meet guys your own age. The golden rule? Use the shuttle! Both Stephanie and Catherine told us that the surefire simplest way to escape the “Chatham bubble” is to jump on and go to Oakland. Not only will you be able to scope out cuties from the neighboring campuses, but you’ll discover the world of classic parties and Greek life that you won’t get on Woodland Road. “I was worried I wasn’t going to have any guy friends when I moved to Pittsburgh, but I found myself spending a lot of time in Oakland on Pitt’s campus and at CMU,” says Alex. “Going to parties can give you great opportunities to meet new people.”
Don’t stress about flirting, either. Even if you’re new to college, you’re still a bit of a surprise (in a good way) to college boys. “They love hearing that we go to a women’s college because it’s an absolute mystery to them as to what it’s like around Chatham!” says Alex. “Plus, they feel like they have less competition because they don’t have to compete with guys on our campus!”
Occasionally, if you don’t feel like going out, Chatham brings the guys to you. “I actually met my boyfriend now at an event Chatham hosted!” says Gretchen. “They brought in a fraternity from Pitt to come play capture the flag with us. It was a lot of fun!”
DON'T let anyone write you off.
The truth is, no matter how many fabulous stories you have to tell or how many success statistics you slip into a conversation, there are still people who won’t get single-sex education. “My least favorite part of going to a women’s college is the generalizations that other people make about female-only institutions,” says Shannon. “Despite Chatham’s impressive academic record, some people write it off simply as a ‘girls’ school.’ Anyone who has been at Chatham for more than five minutes knows that it is so much more than that.”
Unfortunately, you can't bring everyone who doubts your decision to campus, but you can show them the meaningful impact of the women's college experience by living it fully. The best way to do that?
DO embrace the sisterhood.
Chatham doesn’t have sororities because it is one. Chatham women are part of a culture that embraces their thoughts, ideas, passions and imaginings. Stephanie calls it an “astonishingly diverse and accepting atmosphere.” You’ll find women who you share everything with, and you'll connect with women who are wildly different. “I have met some wonderful, intelligent women at Chatham who have come to be some of my closest friends,” says Stephanie. And whether you completely fall in love with a women’s college environment or not, you’ll never doubt the power of the experience. “It’s just an amazing feeling to get up in the morning and realize that you are surrounded by fantastic women who really are going to go out and change the world,” says Shannon. “Most people who attend a women’s college are not there looking for parties or a boyfriend; they’re there because they want to make a difference.”
Photo Credits (from top):
1. (courtesy of Stephanie Welling, photo by Robin Schweitzer): Stephanie Welling, Lucie Stanton and Kayla Clem during a weekend trip to Maryland
2. (courtesy of Stephanie Welling): Kayla Clem, Allie Makosky and Stephanie Welling at the Holiday Ball
3. (courtesy of Shannon Ward): Shannon Ward (bottom row, far left) and Catherine Giles (bottom row, far right) with other Chatham women at the Women of the World (W.O.W.) Retreat at Eden Hall
4. (courtesy of Alex Heathcock): Alex Heathcock (third from left) and Chatham friends
5. (courtesy of Alex Heathcock): Alex Heathcock (second from right) and Chatham friends
6. (courtesy of Stephanie Welling): Allie Makosky, Stephanie Welling, Lucie Stanton and Kayla Clem at Spring Formal