Girls Rule! Women’s colleges foster personal growth and leadership
THERE ARE A LOT OF MYTHS SURROUNDING ALL-FEMALE UNIVERSITIES. Besides the misconception that the students don’t do fun things, there’s also the one about how graduates won’t be prepared when they’re “released into the wild” of a coed world.
In actuality, the opposite is true. Women’s colleges foster personal growth and leadership, and the students are more likely to pursue traditionally male-dominated majors, like the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
At Alverno College (WI), women are visible and active from their first day on campus. “Women are the editors of the student newspaper, leaders in the student government, and women make up the entire membership of the United Nations mock delegation,” explains Carole Barrowman, professor of English at Alverno. “Women direct and perform in the theater productions, and fill the chorus, the computer centers and the science labs.”
Jill Nelson Granger, associate dean and professor of chemistry at Sweet Briar College (VA) agrees. “Research has shown women’s colleges are better than coeducational institutions in creating leaders, communicators and persuaders … [and] helping students develop critical life and career skills.”
In addition to students at women’s colleges being more likely to be leaders in their professions, they’re also more likely to be entrepreneurs and to serve on corporate boards.
At Sweet Briar, students can take the three-year Leadership Certificate Program to develop and explore their leadership skills. It combines academic and experiential learning on topics like time management, public speaking, team dynamics, decision-making and gender issues in leadership.
The course reflects the school’s mission (which was revised in 2004) to not only educate women, but also prepare them for careers and to be “productive, responsible members of a world community.”
So why do women thrive in more gender-segregated environments?
“I think the intentionality of the students is different,” says Nelson Granger. “They have different expectations of what their college experience will provide, and they tend to be very academically focused.”
“You already know that women think differently from men, and you may also know about the studies showing how ‘chilly’ a coed classroom climate can be for women,” says Barrowman. “How, whether deliberate or not, professors often value men as students more than women. They call on male students more. They reinforce the ideas of male students more. And yet most coed institutions remain rooted in predominantly male-centered teaching and learning models. Not Alverno. Our faculty understands how women learn (collaboratively, inclusively and open to multiple viewpoints). These particular ways of knowing shape Alverno’s teaching while the experiences of women as scientists, scholars, writers and historians are at the center of its curriculum. Our classes are active and engaging because each student has a voice, and at a women’s college that voice is heard no matter how she speaks.”
Certainly, there is a different, perhaps more holistic approach to teaching and learning at many women’s colleges. The language detailing mission statements, student life and even academics feels more inclusive and personal. Here’s a line from Sweet Briar’s statement of purpose: “[Academic study] takes place within an environment that encourages physical well-being, ethical awareness, sensitivity to others, responsibility for one’s actions, personal initiative and the assumption of leadership.”
Good luck finding something about “sensitivity to others” at coed colleges!