There are thirty-nine women’s colleges in the United States, and St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s) is on that list. However, there is talk of St. Kate’s becoming a co-ed institution in the future, narrowing the number of women’s colleges down to thirty-eight.
While the all-women’s atmosphere of St. Kate’s may not have been what caught all of its students’ attentions, it is definitely a reason some came, and this reason is something to consider when thinking about whether St. Kate’s should become co-ed or not. In a women-only setting, students are more likely to speak up in classes without being talked over by their male peers. Given the chance to participate in lessons, women develop better communication skills, something that employers desire when looking for employees. But not only do students’ communication skills improve, they are able to gain confidence in their opinions and their ideas.
Studies show that from a young age, girls begin to believe that they aren’t as smart as the boys their age. This belief goes on to affect girls throughout their life, and eventually into their college years. At a co-ed college, that idea continues. Women are still constantly around their male peers, competing with those peers in classes and feeling like they aren’t succeeding the way their peers are. However, if you take the male peers out of the equation, students have no one to compete with but other women who also want to succeed, which gives them an opportunity to discover their own intelligence.
A woman understanding her true potential is not a process that happens overnight, but receiving an education at a women’s college is an excellent place to start. When students start at St. Kate’s, they’re required to take a course titled “The Reflective Woman” (TRW). In this course, all students are likely to read Adrienne Rich’s “Claiming an Education.” In her speech delivered at Douglass College in 1977, Rich says “One of the devastating weaknesses of university learning, of the store of knowledge and opinion that has been handed down through academic training, has been its almost total erasure of women’s experience and thought from the curriculum, and its exclusion of women as members of the academic community.”
As it is now, St. Kate’s is setting up students to value their women’s college education. If the student body were to change and include male students, part of that value is lost. While the university could still push on the importance of a women’s college education, not all male students would value this education the same way. Not only this, but by becoming a co-ed student body, St. Kate’s women-only history will be lost on those who may not care about the importance of a women’s college.
Rich mentions the point of the erasure of women’s experience in academia. In most co-ed colleges, the curriculum doesn’t stray far from the male academics that students have been taught in their education up to their college years. Students are exposed to the same male authors, scientists, and political figures. A women’s college experience–a St. Kate’s experience in particular–offers students an opportunity to learn about the important women who participated in the history of the world. With exposure to important women throughout time, students are able to stray farther away from being lesser than their male peers. Instead, they are shown examples of smart women who succeed in what they do, thus paving the way for more possibilities.
A women’s college offers a unique experience for students, giving them an opportunity to gain skills that may not have been so easily accessible at co-ed schools. Women’s college students are more likely to “be strong leaders, be better at problem solving, and be better team builders with people in diverse backgrounds.” These skills along, with the communication skills mentioned earlier, are skills employers value deeply.
Going to St. Kate’s as a women’s college is an experience that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is an empowering and transformative university as it is, and taking away that major aspect lessens one of the greatest reasons people choose to come to a women’s college.