Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Should all male colleges continue to exist?

I'm going to get us started on this, and you can post new blogs on it or respond to this one. I was reading the Wabash entry in the book Colleges That Change Lives, and there's a quote by former Pres. Andrew Ford who says when asked why Wabash is still single-sex, "You're asking the wrong question. The question is, why did you go coed?" And the writer of the chapter follows with, "And everybody on his campus feels the same way." That this palpably false statement is out in print, in a book widely read, really upsets me. Does "everybody on campus" feel the same way on this issue?
Most informed people know why the vast majority of colleges went co-ed from the 50's on--it was the right thing to do. Single-sex colleges were set up in the 18th and 19th centuries because women were not considered worthy of higher education; it was assumed that they did not have the intellectual capacity for it. If one accepts that this assumption is no longer valid, then what is the basis for single-sex college education? Women's colleges may have a legitimate rationale--historically and socially; women weren't permitted in male colleges, and there continues to be discrimination against women in society which would legitimize the value of their "choosing" to be educated separately from men.
But what is the value an all-male college? After teaching in one for over thirty years I can see that there are some unique benefits, but also some drawbacks, from the perspective of a faculty member.
One benefit for me is having a diverse all-male group discuss issues of masculinity in an insulated, focused way. One disadvantage is having an all male-group discuss this issue, and any issue, in an insulated way, without the benefit of a variety of female perspectives. But I'm not a student here, so I would like to hear the honest response of students about this issue, especially from seniors. What do you see as the benefits--academically, intellectually, emotionally, socially--of this experience? What are the drawbacks for you?  As a student in an advanced gender studies class, what lessons learned from what you've studied help shape you current opinions on this question? What out of classroom experiences shape your opinions? Can you think critically about this question, given that you are still immersed in the college environment? Finally, at this point, would you encourage your son(s) to attend? Why or why not?


  1. I am going to begin my response by answering the last question posed in Dr. Rosenberg's post and work my backwards from there. I would, without a doubt encourage my son to come to attend this school or an all male school in general. For me personally, the all male education and atmosphere has played a huge part in constructing who I am as an individual and more importantly as a man. As men i think that we can all agree that we act differently when we are around women. This being said i think being in an all male setting for the past four years has eliminated this false facade that men tend to put up when they are around women and enables us to grow into who we truly are without the pressure of trying to impress or fulfill the expectations of our female counterparts. I can think of many instances when guys are totally different when surrounded by girls than in the setting of our all male school. By enabling the men of Wabash to grow over their four years at school with the positive male role models on campus, the various leaderships opportunities, the stringent course load, and numerous other aspects of Wabash that we as students grow to love or hate during our time here, the young men that come here are able to mature and leave as men who are confident in who they have become and are prepared to contribute to society in a positive manner. I find that the all male classroom settings are more beneficial that detrimental. Yes, the discussion in class may be very one sided and we do often lack the opinion from the other sex, but i feel this enables us as men to take a deeper look at ourselves as men, and evaluate that fact. It provides and sort of gender studies or evaluation in every class. Our senior seminar has been the perfect example, granted the subject matter is gender issues, we have still been able to discuss and dive deep into masculine issues that would most likely not have been touched on had we been in a co-ed setting. I find the all male classroom setting a much more beneficial thing that negative.

    Although it may be a skewed opinion of mine as i am still fully immersed in the Wabash culture and atmosphere, i have found over the past month, particularly in my time at various job interviews and discussing with other candidates from other schools that my all male education has not "sheltered" me in any way. I did not find any difficulty or inability to hold conversation or discussion with a group that consisted of both male and females. Not to mention I find that the overall appreciation for women goes through the roof. That is not to say that before coming to Wabash i was disrespectful to women and did not value them, but being here for four years makes me appreciate the times that they are around, that is for sure.

    I guess i have touched on a lot in this brief comment, but i am not hesitant to stand up for the all male education. It is something that has significantly impacted my life and i will carry my experiences here with me for the duration of my life. Coming here has enabled me to find myself as a man, and molded who i am today. I can honestly say i am better for it, in all aspects...academics, emotions, socially...all of them.

  2. In all honesty, when I decided to attend Wabash, I just saw the institution as another college. I knew Wabash was an all-male institution, but the value of that meant nothing to me until I sat down in my first class. As i progressed through my freshman and sophomore years, I began to appreciate the discussion of what it is to be man; directly or indirectly, through discussion, masculinity slowly became delineated. But Wabash has a specific definition of masculinity that isn't universal. At times it is fluid, at times it is infallible, and at times it is ignorant. What it is though is our own, something that we slowly come to understand and appreciate. By the end of our short tenure at Wabash, we seem to have a grasp on a middle ground of masculinity that works, but that's all it does.

    The all-male institution means nothing to us if we do not directly explore why we are all-male. After three and a half years at Wabash, not once has the discussion of masculinity been direct or purposeful, until this class. It exists as the elephant in the room, that one subject that relates to any and everything we do, but because of the perceived attack on masculinity the subject remains untouched. No one has the balls to attack manhood head on, if you will.

    To me, as brilliantly as this institution shapes men, there is no reason for Wabash, or any other institution, to exist as all-male until, explicitly, the conversation about and for masculinity exists. There is no reason to exist outside of the realm of women (kind of) if we do not blatantly take advantage of our difference. Using the all-male label for school spirit is not our purpose. Creating an all-male masculinity works, but it is not productive. If Wabash had the same exacting academic, athletic, and social standards as a co-educational institution, the same men would be produced. We are the product of a constantly stressful environment, not necessarily an all-male environment. When we begin to dissect, analyze, and explore what masculinity is, then the purpose of remaining a unisex institution is fulfilled, until then, we will remain obsolete and ineffectual.

  3. I have personally benefited from coming to an all male institution. In my personal opinion it has made me more aware of my own maleness. It was not my first choice to come to Wabash because it was an all male instituion and thought I would be missing out on a lot by not attending co-ed instituition. This however is not the case, I feel as if I have gained more than what I thought I would be missing out on. I feel that Wabash is responsible for my interest in exploring gender. I will admit that I had a hard time adjusting to this place, but after my first semester I feel in love with this place and it felt like home despite the things I complained about.

    Prior to coming to Wabash I didn't have many close relationships with males as far as friends, my younger brother, or even my father. Wabash is the first place that made me feel like it was ok to be who I really was and still be accepted by my male peers, which is something I never experieced before. Wabash has made me more comfortobale with who I am and that who I am doesn't make me any less of a man.

    In addition to this being at an all male college has made me as well as some of my peers more concious of some of the things we do or say that might be perceived as sexist and has made us more sentive to these types of things. I find myself teliing my friends at home that they are being sexist. I also find myself not only saying this to my male friends/family but my female friends and family members as well. Sometimes women can be just as sexist as men and not even realize it and this is something I think I never would have paid attention to if I hadn't come to an all male instituiton.

    There is nothing wrong with an all male institution as long as it doesn't remain all male on the basis of prejudices people may have. I mean this along the lines more so of what Terry was arguing. As an all male institution we should take advantage of the types of discussions that could open up here. Although these discussions may not happen as often as they should, they do happen, which in my opinion is why the college is still all male. It is not as if we are discriminating because if we were I don't think we would have female faculty memebers.

    One example of how being at an all male college and how it has enhanced my personal thinking is dealing with a question I initially thought of before responding to Dr. Rosenberg's post. To play devil's advocate I pose the question are we really an all male instituion? We have had and probably still have female students. When I say this I think of cases like Andrea James. While she may have appeared to be male she was truly female and a student here at Wabash College, and there have been and probably still are others in the same situation.....doesn't that technically make us a co-ed institution? These are the types of beneficial questions and thinking that can come from attending an all male institution and exploring gender studies. This is something I never would have thought of before coming to Wabash and exploring gender because of what may be perceived as an all male enviornment, and this type of critical thinking is one of the things we should benefit from as a Wabash student, and I definitely feel I have benefited from that.

  4. I think my experience with Wabash has been a lot more mixed. Originally, I chose Wabash for its academic reputation, and I definitely considered the complete lack of females to be a negative—and also the only one I was aware of at the time. But after being here for a short while, I started to question whether or not I wanted to be a “Wabash man.” Sure, the Wabash man has all kinds of positive traits, but he’s also often portrayed in turn as rowdy, boisterous, uncouth, a fratboy—and all of these things are sort of encompassed in Wally’s self-absorbed sneer. He projects confidence, but there’s also a pretty strong element of arrogance in his smile. This often causes my “loyalty” or desire to identify with the college to fluctuate. I often find, when outside of the college, Wabash students are perceived as either very intelligent and studious or drunken and rowdy, and so I alternately distance myself from and identify with the “Wabash man” depending on the context.

    The college also often seems to have a strong conservative bent. Whereas Depauw has speakers like Yo-Yo Ma and Bill Clinton and Oberlin has Salman Rushdie, Wabash has Karl Rove and Bob Knight. And Wabash also ranks very highly each year as one of the colleges most inhospitable to the homosexual community. My brother (who also went to Wabash) and I have spent a lot of time discussing the college, and he often says that “Wabash’s greatest achievement is convincing itself of its own greatness.” I think there is some truth to this statement. While we both think the college is good, it has a lot of room for improvement. There’s a strong clinging to tradition and opposition to change, and I’m not convinced that these are necessarily good things. Somehow it seems to me that the school’s love for tradition, the lack of acceptance it offers the homosexual community, and its conservativeness must all be linked to the sort of traditional masculinity the college seems to endorse through statements like “Boys will be boys, but men go to Wabash”—so the college both sort of endorses a type of essentialist masculinity while it simultaneously attracts students who find that masculinity appealing. What can “Depauw Swallows” and “Wabash Always Fights” be but signs of masculine pride?

    You can see evidence of the college’s attraction to this sort of essential masculinity in the recent responses to the idea of having a gender studies requirement. A lot of students simply didn’t want another requirement, but there was also a great deal of outright hostility towards the idea, which stemmed from fears of “indoctrination,” “emasculation,” and, I would suspect, homophobia. So while I agree with Sam that it hasn’t been my experience that I’ve been “sheltered” by my time at an all-male college, I don’t think that the experiences of the students in our Gender Criticism class are representative of Wabash as a whole.

  5. However, despite what my brother and I dislike about Wabash, we’ve both noted that we feel like defending it, especially from external criticism. I think this stems partly from Terry’s idea that we are not necessarily products of an all-male environment, but of a “constantly stressful environment.” The feeling of brotherhood I experience at Wabash seems very similar to the feelings I had towards my teammates on my high school tennis team—I know that they’re the only ones will completely understand and relate to all the work and effort I’ve put in at Wabash. So there’s a sense of respect there, and I think maybe this accounts for the strong alumni support? But I do agree with Sam’s experience of the male façade being broken down at Wabash. My experience with males while visiting co-ed colleges has been much different. I’ve had a friend transfer to a co-ed school and comment after being there for a few weeks that he thought it would be much harder to build genuine male friendships there, and I’ve also had a friend from a co-ed school visit and comment on how much more “laid back” the campus and guys at Wabash are.

    I’ve got one last point to bring up for discussion. My brother and I were talking about how, in some sense, even though the college rejects the female, it’s still “our mother.” The “Alma Mater” roughly translates into something like “nourishing mother.” Of course, if we accept that our college is our “mother,” then who is our father? In some sense, the ideal Wabash man can be considered the “father” of the college. However, for most of us the ideal Wabash masculinity is simply unattainable; he’s supposed to be great at absolutely everything he does: a great intellectual, a great athlete, a community leader, and a savvy businessman. Simply having a collective “ideal” serves to perpetuate this belief in an essential masculinity; however, in reality, Wabash is full of all kinds of different masculinities, and we all tend to identify ours in relation to and against the others we encounter. In this way, the ideal Wabash man could be considered our missing father figure—we have no “model,” and so we construct various forms of masculinity in his absence, which accounts for the campus discourse on what constitutes a “Wabash man.” What does everyone else think about this?

    So I suppose I would not encourage my son to go to Wabash, but I also wouldn’t discourage him from attending. I think the college offers an opportunity for good male friendships and the opportunity to explore his masculinity more thoughtfully (even though a large portion of the campus is convinced that we’re not already forced to do this by our interaction with different kinds of masculinity), but it also has a lot of negatives. I think, more than anything else, I would encourage him to go a “high-stress” college, but he wouldn’t necessarily need to go to Wabash to get that experience.

  6. I have been waiting for the opportunity to attack this question for a few years now, it always comes up with people when you tell them about Wabash. They always ask, "Are you gay?" or "What's it like without girls?" or "Good luck at Testicle Tech"...something to that effect. So, now, in an open response, I can firmly state that the effects of Wabash have been the single most paramount catalyst in my development as a man. A lot of that effect must be credited to the all-male environment. Actually, first off, let me straighten that out. It isn't an all-male environment. We have female professors, we have girlfriends, we have mothers, and old friends, and the cashier at Walmart that always hits on me, and Ms. Vanarsdall checking in on us and making sure we are cleared for school, and Nurse Lamb keeping us healthy, and so on and so forth. We do not only talk to men, or fear/hate women. In fact, some of the greatest benefits to Wabash pertain to women.
    Anyway, the benefits of Wabash are limitless. Of course, there are the material advantages: up-scale facilities, the alumni network, the reputation, ect. But there are a great deal of more intrinsically valued effects to this school. Those effects largely stem from our student-body being all-male. The Wabash classroom is unlike anything in this country. It provokes a different type of discussion that couldn't be found at another school. Don't get me wrong, this isn't to say that a co-ed classroom does any harm; but it certainly creates inevitable barriers that Wabash breaks. In a co-ed classroom students could have questions about things they feel uncomfortable addressing in front of the opposite sex..."can I say that?"..."dude, there are females present, you can't say that"...this isn't just for men, women face similar problems. They have to, there is no way they don't. So now, at Wabash, the men here are free to ask a whole new world of questions and discuss things in a controlled, academic environment. Just think, there is no way we could have talked about ragging the way we did with girls present. It was vulgar and it can be offensive...but that's the point, it doesn't matter! We're all on the same level, we're guys, we can approach things like that with an outside perspective and legitimately discuss these things without heated opinion (for a time).

  7. Another effect, something that has been proved to me in the past weeks, is that going to Wabash is every little boy's dream. It's the ultimate playhouse. What does every little boy either do or dream about doing? Building a fort. A small, private place where boys can be boys and talk about boy things. A place to just be yourself and learn who you are. A small, private place where boys can be boys with a giant sign on it that says "NO GIRLS ALLOWED" That's what Wabash is! By choosing to remain all-male (which I feel moots Professor Rosenberg's point about why schools integrated by basing its single-sex status on the issues and agenda of its time and making a decision in the interest of the students. Let's go big man, I'll argue all about this until I go down with my boots on) Wabash has promised that fort. Wabash has promised a place where, no longer boys, Men can go to be Men.
    Now back to girls. Yes, girls. A great deal of Wabash's benefits definitely pertain to women. Living and studying away from women inevitably forces us to think about them. We think about this girl and that girl, we talk to this girl and that girl, we hang out with girlfriends and talk to our female professors...and then, most likely when we should be working, we TALK ABOUT girls with the guys here. We share stories and experiences. We respond, we grow. Hell, I spent my first three years at Wabash stuck in a box of heartbreak but the guys here, in this place, with its lessons, helped me grow and move past it. In the end, this school positively affects our relationships with women by giving us a 4 year period in our life where we can remove ourselves from the situation if possible to reflect, probably drink a lot, learn, and move on.
    Of course, there are some drawbacks to Wabash. The work-load is ridiculous. Like, really, do the professors here get together and think of crazy ways to take away our dicking-around time? It's in a crappy town. Rhetoric is a major (haha kidding). But what do these have in common? None of them pertain to the school being co-ed. Sure, there are no girls in the classroom. But that's not the point. The benefit of college isn't the classroom, the classroom is the advantage. The benefit of college, its purpose, is the life-experience you gain. The real world isn't here. Wabash isn't the real world. That is the biggest thing I've learned at Wabash, that it isn't real. In class, we study literature and discuss its themes and their implications and whether or not it belongs in the cannon. In class we bring in our experiences and learn from them. So, what matters is what we bring to the table.
    Does still being enrolled here affect my stance? Maybe im biased because I love this place so much. But I know that cannot be it because I hate Wabash. I hate how it forced me to work for what I received. I hate how it sucks years out of your life unlike anything some sissy English major at IThink2PagePapersAreHard University could never understand. I hate that I couldn't walk 20 yards to a girls-only living unit on a lonely Wednesday night. I hate that I can only see my girlfriend or family when I find a break in my workload every once in a while. I hate the fact that all these things I hate forged me into the man I am now by way of fire.
    But that's what Wabash Men do. We define ourselves through our situation. We took the path-less-traveled. We looked our boys back home in the face and told them we were going to Wabash. We knew it would be hard, we knew we would get questioned, and we know that being all-male will always be an issue. But hey, it's our fort. Wabash is our small, private place to go and learn how to be a man before we have to be a man in the real world.

  8. yo my post took a few too many lines. It has 2 parts.

  9. I never supported the idea of Wabash being all-male. WHOA! Where did that come from? Have I just lost my mind? Let me explain...
    As I just finished writing in my last post (yes, I'm doing this backwards), my experiences at Wabash have proven to me that men are different--whether due to nature or nurture is not important. There are certain "male" characteristics which transcend cultural and temporal boundaries and affect who (most) men are. This being the case, logically if I believe in essential masculinity then I must also believe in essential femininity. Wabash is missing something. It's missing the "female perspective." I empathize with the point that's often brought up that at Wabash, men are free so say what they really think without fear of gneder-political correctness backlash from annoyed women. That's certainly true. When I was studying abroad at York there were definitely a few times that I said what I thought only to be glared at by well over half the class (I'm not sure if you guys realize this, but English is kind of a "girly" subject at other schools).
    But why would that openness need to change? Why couldn't we make Wabash a place where both men AND women could be honest about what they believe? I mean, wouldn't that be awesome? To have guys saying what they really think and hearing what women really think? I mean, there have been so many classes this semester where I thought it would be so helpful to hear a woman's perspective. Of course, the only time you get close to hearing that is if you have a woman professor, but that's not an ideal situation for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that professors and students are generally going to be quite different anyway, so it's not the same).
    I don't think this ideal is impossible. I look at the relationship I have my sister, for example. We are simply brutally honest with each other. She grew up with four older brothers so trust me, she can hang in the big leagues. I love the conversations I have with her because of that honesty and because I do get to hear a feminine perspective on things. I think my sister would do amazing at Wabash (much better than my idiot (just kidding!, more like "academically disinclined") brothers). But sadly she won't have that chance.
    Now let me qualify my opinons. I think that single-sex education is a valid thing to believe in--it's not sexist, it's not illegal, and the college has every right to choose who it admits. I also know that the "brotherhood" (that was the word I used to describe it at the time) of this place was what drew me here, the connection that we as Wabash men feel with each other. I just think that the reason for that isn't necessarily that we're all male. Look at the blog posts above mine--one theme that consistently appears is the stress level of this place, of the workload and the papers and the crazy hearltess professors who give quizzes on Monday and assign 60-page court opinions to read (I'm figuratively looking at you, Prof. Himsel). I think that the academic environment of this place is what brings us together. One of the most important criteria in my law school search, for example, is classroom size. I think small, discussion-based classes with accessible professors is what brings us together, and the insane workload seals those relatinships.
    I won't look at all the other colleges that have gone coed--Harvard, Princeton, Yale, ect--and not suffered ill-effects. Wabash is a different place. I would like to share this place with the other half of humanity, some of who, like my sister, deserve it. My two cents.

  10. I've been thinking about this question a lot over the last few months. Aside from our curricular self-evaluation due to our Gender Studies class, something happened a few months ago in ANOTHER class that raised this question independently. One of my female friends from DePauw came and visited our James Joyce class at some point around mid-semester. Normally the discussion in this class is hit or miss, and there are some people who you can tell have NOT done their readings, whereas everyone else (except a handful per class) just makes it LOOK like they've done it. This day, having been told in advance that we'd have a "visitor from DePauw" (and I confirmed to my classmates that although all Dannies are "female", yes, this visitor was a LITERAL female), the class discussion was very different. But, unlike predictions that most people make in defense of our all-male system, this difference was clearly positive.

    Whether everyone had read the assignment or not, everyone was eager to make it look like they had! People voluntarily discussed who don't normally discuss, and even though my friend never decided to speak up in class (not wanting to be presumptuous), the timbre of the class was changed, and everyone in general was much more attentive and alert.

    Now, before you get your boxers in a bunch, I'm not going quite where you probably expect with this. I have loved most of my time at Wabash, and the college does have a uniquely friendly, comfortable, homelike feeling thanks in large part to being all-male. I also believe that our all-male classroom does help many students to "find their voice" in a comfortable environment and to develop confidence which otherwise would be suppressed. And of course, after this week, I don't think any of us will contest the exceptional rigor of the Wabash education-- but that's beside the point.

    What I mean to say is that there are uncontested benefits to the availability of all-male classes while one is adjusting, both academically and socially, to college life. My initial example, however, is to show that there is also something to be said FOR the pressure that a female presence adds. Some may argue for going co-ed on the grounds of exposing students to the "female viewpoint." And as much as I find that such a thing seems to exist today, doesn't feminist theory say that such gendered behaviors are socially-constructed, meaning that a "female viewpoint" could just as easily be held by a biological male? I agree in practice, but I think it's funny that gender constructionists would make this argument.

    So I guess I still haven't said what I mean to say. To get to the point, the classroom visitor we had that day in Joyce class really showed to me that there are two sides to the "classroom environment" card that we always play. Once we have "found our voice," and developed our confidence, what, exactly, is the benefit of remaining in our so firmly-entrenched comfort zones? I feel like as seniors, none of us should have issues with speaking up in class, regardless of who's around. We're going to have to speak and lead in a co-ed world in a year anyway... and as much as I've enjoyed our gender studies class this semester (and hesitate myself to assume "male/female perspectives"), I do think that the one thing that could have improved it most would have been the input of females.

  11. my prior entry first because this is continued from that...

    The BIGGER picture, though, is that ANY class of seniors LOSES more than just the dubious "feminine perspective" when it is all-male. It loses the natural, biologically-hard-wired drive that a female's presence inspires in us. While we may be more "comfortable" in our all-male classroom, I think that by senior year, this comfort has all too often teeter-tottered over into complacency and apathy, with students knowing professors well and thus not trying their hardest, hoping to cash in on accumulated brownie points or whatnot. However perverse this rationale may be, I don't think any of us would contest that we are more motivated to perform our best when we have someone to impress. And when many students lose motivation to impress their professors, what better motivator than female attention?

    Even for motivated students that want to impress professors, a female presence would provide an extra boost, something that's often much-needed even to get out of bed. For what it's worth.

    I suppose if I could change the way we do things here, I would look for some way to provide this in upper-level classes. Let's be honest: single-sex classes for seniors in their majors seems unnecessarily insular. I guess we'd lose the camaraderie of universal griping about 397 or raving about C&T, FRT, etc., but other than that... what exactly do we gain?

    Ultimately, I think it would be tragic to see one of the last three all-male institutions go co-ed at this point. But I would encourage my son to go to Wabash regardless of its gender-acceptance status, simply because it is a friendly, rigorous college dedicated to the liberal arts.