Inclusive women’s colleges are still relevant

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18


I fully recognize the irony of writing an Op-Ed about discourse in the campus newspaper for one of the most liberal colleges in the country. What could someone so steeped in liberal bias have to say about the value of balanced discourse? 

Not much, if you look at the media attention surrounding Mount Holyoke College. Controversy over our transgender policy has begun and finished my time here, starting at my first convocation and, it seems, stretching to my commencement. We are, if you believe everything you read, a group of tyrannical feminists who undermine their own cause by discriminating solely against cisgendered men in order to create a genderless world that only exists in our own minds.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time addressing these criticisms, other than to say that I would like to address why women’s colleges, including our own inclusive women’s college, are still relevant. Women’s colleges acknowledge that a space for women to learn and grow as people is critical to developing softer skills — assertiveness, confidence and camaraderie. What I am opposing at Mount Holyoke is no longer an inequality in the number of diplomas awarded to men as opposed to women. As some have correctly pointed out, that number now lies in Mount Holyoke’s favor. What the College is really opposing are the ways in which women are socialized to hinder our success: to be quieter, to sacrifice our voice, to be more amiable. Not to be ambitious, to let boys be boys. To stay silent because speaking up might ruin his life.

Part of what we embrace in our collective mission is compassion. We have the courage to listen to new ideas where the male-dominated society that inspired Mary Lyon to found this institution did not. And part of that compassion is a total respect for the existence and identity of others. Part of that compassion is the thing that makes us an inclusive women’s college. For all of the vagaries and arguments surrounding the term “inclusive women’s college,” all it really means is that any person who has ever, at some point in their lives, identified as or been socialized as a woman will be welcome at Mount Holyoke. Our college acknowledges that something has gone wrong in the way children are socialized, and that we need to fix it.

I very lovingly call Mount Holyoke a “living social experiment.” And that’s because it is. It took one of the oldest women’s college in the country and said, “What would this look like if we adopted a policy of radical tolerance?” It looks messy and imperfect, but it has taught us to respect the humanity of each of our fellow students. True, there is more we have to work on, and we should push to be just as tolerant of each others’ ideas as we are to each others’ identities. But as we examine this issue and continue our own discussions on campus, let’s never lose sight of what is essential here. Mount Holyoke students are painted as extremists, and for all the people who do not believe in our mission, we believe in each other. And if we can approach our lives outside of Mount Holyoke with the same compassion that we bring to our college community, we’ll have done something remarkable.