I spent this past summer interning in Spain, and I was the quintessential American girl of the workplace (accordingly deemed “Duchess of the Ketchup”). Being from a foreign country, people always wanted to talk to me about life in America, and I found that the conversation would inevitably turn to the fact that I attended an all-women’s college. They were perplexed yet intrigued by “such an American education system,” and they fired away with their questions and frustrating preconceived notions. Despite their classification of women’s colleges as characteristically American, I have found that these same misconceptions are equally present closer to home, as I’ve had similar conversations with people within the US who don’t see the value in a women’s college education, and I have heard several questions expressing this opinion.
One of the burning questions seems to be simply why attend a women’s college at all, and while I have always initially answered “because I want to,” this response is often never enough to satisfy people’s curiosities. So, in addition to my personal reasons for choosing Mount Holyoke, I have been able to gather up enough ammunition worth sharing that explains why women’s colleges still matter and that hopefully manages to debunk a few of the associated perceptions.
Is Mount Holyoke a convent?
Sometimes I’ve had to face people who automatically assumed I lived in a convent when I said I went to Mount Holyoke. I’m a smart Christian girl, I live in a dorm with a bunch of “other girls,” but alas I’m not a nun. This matter has undoubtedly presented some confusion. Granted, people who did realize that women’s colleges and convents aren’t synonymous still usually had a similar line of questions for me, like, “Isn’t separating women and men sexist and outdated? If it’s not a convent then what’s the point of a college just for women then?” Well the point is, we live in a society that is dominated by men, and I deserve to be educated in an institution that puts me first. Educating women in their own institutions is not sexism, it’s equality. Mount Holyoke (and women’s colleges by definition) has a long history of prioritizing women’s education, something that is still necessary today because sexism remains ever-present in the workforce. Women’s colleges don’t exist simply due to an idea that women should be separated from men, but rather because we need feminism to combat sexism especially in work and education-related spheres. For instance, we have to deal with things like the wage-gap, which is in fact way more “sexist and outdated” than the existence of women’s colleges.
How will you find a boyfriend?
It seems that people never fail to ask about missing being around men. I usually mention the Five College Consortium, just to throw them a bone and make them feel better about themselves, but I also let it be known that I benefit from the 5-Colleges in ways beyond merely getting to take classes with men, especially because it is important to recognize that not all students at Mount Holyoke identify as female. It is all of the experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds of my fellow Mohos that make up the campus’ diversity. Diversity can be measured across so many variables, and Mount Holyoke has more than enough of them that I definitely don’t feel like I’m missing out on valuable learning experiences due to lack of cis-men. The type of diversity that makes up women’s colleges is valuable and extremely worthy, and allows for a safe space for women, transgender, and non-binary students.
Do you get caught up in a lot of “girl drama”?
It has also been pretty common for people to bring up all the “drama and cattiness” that I have to deal with. I always agree with them: how very catty of me to sincerely respect and look up to all my friends and peers in a motivative, but not-at-all competitive light. (Side note: that’s honestly something that I had never truly experienced before I came to MHC.) Think of all the drama I have to deal with being in an environment that’s so supportive, comfortable, and that fosters a spirit of growth in self-confidence, perspective, and in so many other aspects. Why even waste my time on a college where the classroom and social dynamic is incomparable because being surrounded by such strong, brilliant students is incredibly empowering and inspiring? Might as well go to a co-ed school. (Needless to say, I think that had been enough for them to understand my point.)
So what do you have against “real” colleges?
At some point I find that people start to get defensive and say things like, “Well I went to a co-ed university and so did every single person I know, and we all turned out successful.” Or maybe I’ll hear, “Oh I get it you’re just a feminist (or lesbian).” This has always been particularly frustrating because women’s colleges do not seem unconventional to me. I would never want my support of women’s colleges to falsely convey that I am against all other types of colleges either. My mentality is to just be honest and to do my best to help them understand my view without invalidating them or their experience as a student of a co-ed school. I think the students at Mount Holyoke would agree that attending a women’s college has been an influential choice in their lives. Women’s education is so pertinent–it is a matter that is bigger than just going to school without cis-men–and this dialogue, no matter how frustrating, is an important one to have. The more we have these conversations, the more we can broaden the general understanding of what we represent and strive for, as well as gain insight for ourselves.