On what it means to graduate from a women’s college

If you’ve met me, you probably know that I’m a Smithie. If you know me well, you fall into one of two camps: the first is that you are also a Smithie, and the second is that you are pretty sick and tired of me talking about it.

So, what’s a Smithie? A Smithie is a student or alum of Smith College, a women’s liberal arts college in Northampton, MA.

If you haven’t met me, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of how weird or outdated or whatever else a women’s college is in today’s day and age. So, let me tell you about how none of that really matters when you actually attend a women’s college.

When I was applying to schools as a seventeen-year-old, one of the ideas that I came across a lot regarding women’s colleges (of which I applied to two) had to do with female students being able to not only survive, but thrive in an academic setting that didn’t subconsciously cater to guys. As a pretty insecure teen girl, this was something that I didn’t want to admit wanting or needing, but was interesting. I wondered if it was legitimate. Had I been or felt stifled by boys in the classrooms of my high school? Maybe, but I graduated sixth in my class, and cycled through upper-level courses with roughly the same group of kids. So, it wasn’t necessarily that I was actively hurt sharing a classroom with guys. But, the idea that I could learn in a positive atmosphere with other women overshadowed the lack of boys. A lot of times, when people hear the phrase “women’s college,” that’s what they think of first – the absence of men. Which isn’t what it’s about at all, really – it’s about the presence of women.

And it was in the presence of women that I lived and worked and learned for four years. More than this, it was in the presence of women that had made the exact same choice I had – to go to Smith. And that was a really elevating feeling that I realized as soon as I stepped on campus. Going to Smith was not a passive action, everyone around me had chosen to be there – we had chosen each other.

That was an immediate connection, and it made learning inside and outside of the classroom the easiest thing in the world. And that is what college is about, in my eyes, learning about anything and everything. I am the open-minded, well-intentioned person I am today because of Smith.

So, do we still need women’s colleges? Are they relevant? Necessary? There are people who think not, women’s college graduates among them. But, I think most Smithies would tell you that their women’s college education was invaluable. Our society is still patriarchal, and plenty of women still buy into that. But, women can and should be given opportunities to learn and grow outside of those (often male-) created constructs. Opportunities offer choice. And as long as students are choosing women’s colleges, women’s colleges will still be important, and relevant, and necessary.

And fun, too, but I’ll get into that later.

This was originally written in May of 2014.

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