My dear friend from high school attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has always spoken very highly of her college experience and its life-changing affect. In my visits to Smith over the years, I have come to realize as well that it is indeed a special place for many reasons.
Occasionally, I have talked with a female college-bound student about the benefits of a women’s college. A women’s college isn’t a fit for every female student. However, unfortunately, it can be a great fit for more female students than those who seriously consider what those campuses have to offer. The first response is “I won’t see any guys.” My myth-busting response is “Really? On the upper west side of NYC, next to Columbia University. . . no guys?”
If you are at least open to considering why women’s colleges are appealing for many young women each year, check out this interview with Barnard’s President, Debra Spar:
Q.What does the Barnard experience offer for women? To what extent is the experience of attending Barnard different for women when compared with other American colleges?
A.It’s both very different and not very different at all. You walk across Barnard and it feels like walking across Harvard, or Northwestern, or University of Chicago. It’s a big urban campus, very diverse, with men and women. They would look to be in equal proportions. But when you look more closely, what the Barnard students experience is really the best of both worlds. They get the big diverse co-ed environment when they want it but in terms of both their classes, and more importantly their extra-curricular activities, girls are the majority.Just by definition, the president of the student body is female. The leaders of all of the clubs are female. The young women really get an opportunity to be in a female environment and to develop intellectually, personally and academically, without always being conscious of being the woman in the room.The sense you get, even in the best universities in the U.S. is that women, even subconsciously, oftentimes feel that when they put their hand up they are giving the women’s point of view. You feel that you are somehow responsible for presenting a position, and that’s a burden. Whereas if you are in a Barnard class, you put your hand up and you are just being Deborah or Joanne, and I think that frees students to be themselves and discover themselves intellectually. By the same token, in terms of their social lives or the community life, it is this big diverse place.
Q.Does the college have specific programs to encourage woman leadership?
A.We do. We have a program that’s been in place for just two or three years now, so it’s very new, but its done amazingly well. It’s called the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. It is dedicated to helping young women think about their leadership potential, and more importantly what it has really done a great job of is actually giving young women leadership skills.There’s a lot of good talk in the U.S. and around the world about leadership, but a fair amount of it is hand waving and inspirational leadership. What we’ve tried to do is to think about what the skills are you need to run anything, a newspaper or a college or a Fortune 500 corporation. We hypothesize that there are certain skills you are going to need in any of those, and we teach those skills. We teach things like finance, negotiation, fund raising, and public speaking. So, it’s not specific to women – appropriately so because I don’t think there are women’s leadership skills, there are just leadership skills. But statistically, women seem less inclined to acquire these skills.
There are 60 women’s colleges in 24 states in the US. (Massachusetts has 8 women’s colleges.) My hope is that more female college-bound students would be open to at least considering a campus visit at a women’s college. Here is a list of those colleges: