Looking back at a single-sex education

At the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last weekend in Milwaukee, I was one of five women on press row at the NCAA regional. I was one of two women in the press conferences who asked questions. I was the only women in most of the media huddles in the locker rooms.

I attribute that to going to a women’s college.

Now I’m not saying that every aspiring sports reporter should go to a women’s college. You have to find what school best fits your needs, personally, academically and emotionally.

But I definitely believe going to a women’s college gave me an edge. Some of the things you learn from single-sex education: You learn the importance of speaking up in a class without wondering who’s going to question it. You learn leadership skills, whether you’re in charge of a lab group or serving as a teaching assistant. You learn how to confront people and how to respectfully do so. You learn the importance of time management.

You build a certain sense of confidence from the experience.

Attending a women’s college is also about learning how to survive – it’s not an environment for everybody. I had classmates who left because they weren’t satisfied with academic offerings. Others realized they only wanted to go to college to find a husband. Some left because they didn’t pay their bills (actually, they were asked to leave). Others flunked out.

But when you go out into the world and meet a graduate from another single-sex institution – whether it’s an all men’s school such as Morehouse or Hampden-Sydney, or one of the Seven Sisters, or even a student who went to a single-sex high school – there is a certain kinship. You understand what each other did to succeed and to make it through four years, and what you take into the world because of it.

Sadly, this may end at my alma mater.

My college wants to go co-ed, and its administrators have done little to nothing as far as actions go to consider an alternate course of action in order to preserve the mission of the school without killing its current integrity. Sadly, I don’t believe there is much integrity left at the school, even under a president who has been there for more than 20 years, who brought the school out of a similar crisis, who spearheaded a boost in alumnae involvement and giving, who helped raise the profile of the school and who became a mover-and-shaker of sorts in Pittsburgh.

Now, it appears that her legacy is what she believes will “save” the school again. It begs the questions: how did your administration allow the college to get to this point? How did the school decay in the last five years?

As my fellow alumnae and I have done everything in our power to make the administration attempt to understand what they are doing, I am helping spread the word to other women’s college graduates. We are, after all, a certain breed. There are less than 50 women’s colleges left in the United States. Yet at the same time, I see strong schools such as Barnard, Hollins, Bryn Mawr and Spelman and their alumnae. And I’m jealous of these women, who can continue a legacy of an education and an institution that empowered them and supported them, and helped them learn how to survive and thrive in the “real world.”

I’m embarrassed by the fact that I may have to tell them, “well, I went to a women’s college, but it’s about to go co-ed.” In fact, I’m mortified! If this happens, then I only hope I can gain their sympathy.


A letter I wrote to the school:

I am following the college’s communication efforts, the media’s coverage and the feedback I receive from fellow classmates and graduates, of Chatham’s plan to evaluate co-education for its undergraduate program.
One thing has stood out: What has not been in this process is for the administration and the trustees to publicly take into consideration an attempt to negotiate a plan in which the university can continue its original mission of educating women.
Over the past six years, the culture of Chatham College for Women has decayed. Faculty and staff have left in droves. Morale on the Shady Side campus is low. Alumnae engagement is non-existent. The undergraduate student population has plummeted. Look around you at the condition of the Eddy Theatre.
This is a reflection of the administration, which has allowed Chatham to fall into this state.
In regards to plummeting numbers: Are admissions representatives seeing the world? Are they leaving the tri-state area? There are thousands of women across the country who would be thrilled to represent Chatham at a college fair or to present a Rachel Carson Book Award – at the cost of nothing other than postage and long-distance charges.
What is the college doing to expose itself to potential students? Does the athletic center host tournaments for youth basketball and volleyball? Does the university rent the chapel for weddings or christenings? Does the university host corporate events at Mellon Hall or in the Jennie King Mellon Library?
Is alumni relations reaching out to alumnae for more than just money? Are alumnae being asked to speak to classes? Are they being asked to host regional events? Are they being encouraged to contact students who are preparing to enter the work force or preparing to enter college? This is engagement.
These are things that Chatham did when I was a student from 1994 to 1998. When my peers such as Amanda Nedley, Becky Alperin, Olivia Davis, Najaa Young, Jenifer Harris, Angela Matrozza, Christy Dennison and Sarah Barr were at Chatham. These are things I hoped would continue.
We need to consider Chatham’s mission: Educating and empowering women like ourselves.
Going co-ed isn’t what’s going to save the undergraduate program. You don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
What will save our school is forming a new identity and aligning with it, while adhering to our original mission.
As Sheila Otto, Class of 1957, told me last week: “We can do one of two things. We can either create a new vision for ourselves, which we can fulfill … or we can decay.”
That, to me, is evolution. Chatham needs to visualize its evolution and form a plan to fulfill it.

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