Coeducation: Look how far we've come...or have we?

by Erika Meitner | 6/30/94 5:00am

In The Dartmouth, Sept. 1867, on coeducation: "We anticipate a millennium which will please the most fastidious when ladies are admitted to a membership in American colleges. Men of penetration tell us that the time will come. We saw only this afternoon some ladies enter the library during its hours of business. Then we imagined when it should be an everyday matter and we should call her 'frater' and 'social.' But alas! these are but husks; the time is too far distant to congratulate ourselves with much assurance. It may happen to our successors. The days of chivalry will then revive 'former things that have passed away.' In such an age of progress it is impossible to forecast events. Be not surprised, ye gallants, if you are taken by storm before you expect; and sons of Dartmouth prepare to welcome her daughters."

Well, the millennium has come and gone where Dartmouth "welcomed" its daughters with cries of "co-hogs go home" and other such pleasantries. But how much have things really changed for Dartmouth women after more than 20 years of coeducation?

After working on Spare Rib for two years, I ask myself that question often. In writing this article I was completely stumped as to what angle to take. As a vocal woman it seems like everyone tries to classify, politicize and separate me and my views from any sort of unified whole. The term "feminist" has taken on a negative connotation to many who view it as akin to "man-hater." Yet, at the same time, the term is embraced by women who perceive it to be a positive definition of one who believes in gender equality.

As a member of Sigma Delta sorority, I am immediately grouped into all the ideals lumped in with the College's Greek system and its members, though I may not support some of the stereotypes it often condones. I cannot and will not take it upon myself to speak for all women at Dartmouth.

The Women's Resource Center has yet to be moved from its location behind the Choates residence halls, where even Lewis and Clarke would need a campus map to find it. This seems like a relatively minuscule problem, but here at Dartmouth, where location is everything and the river is considered Siberia, few people regularly pass the WRC in their daily travels. According to the WRC publicity definition blurb, it's "a gathering place for all people on campus who want to understand and shape the ways in which gender affects experience." Despite this nebulous description, the resources the WRC provides are truly unique--they include weekly dinners where diverse groups of women gather to discuss any and every topic. These dinners gave me my first introduction freshman year to the truly strong women here at Dartmouth.

A friend of mine who works as a tour guide here once told me a story about one of the tour groups she took out this spring. When she presented the Women's Resource Center to all the parents and prospective '98s, one father laughed jovially and asked, "Where's the men's resource center?" She replied, "The rest of the campus."

Unfortunately, many women still feel this way. Though Dartmouth has come a long way from the time when women were rated from one to 10 when they walked down Massachusetts Row, it has not quite arrived as a place where both sexes feel equally welcome.

The administration has been trying with efforts such as the Task Force on the Status of Women, led by Dan Garodnick '94. In addition, more social options that are not fraternity based and are located on more gender neutral social ground have appeared with the reopening of the Collis Student Center. But the real change in Dartmouth's pervading male atmosphere must come from the women here.

One of the most disturbing divisions on campus, to me, is that between first-year women and older women. The sorority system has recognized this, and the Panhellenic Council organized events last year that were designed to introduce first-year students to upperclass sisters in each sorority house.

But why must these overtures be made through the Greek system?

As a sister of Sigma Delta sorority, I support my house. At the same time, I think that the College itself needs to do something to facilitate the interaction between first-year and upperclass women. The Older and Wiser program is a step in the right direction, but it is only a first step. With the recent proposal of dorms for first-year students, first year women would be separated from their older peers to an even greater extent. Eliminating mixed-class dorms would remove the gender-neutral atmosphere that remains one of the only intimate and unintimidating places where Dartmouth women of all ages can interact.

A fact of life at Dartmouth remains that the social system is overwhelmingly centered around Greek activities, and the Greek system is male-dominated. It is easy, as a first-year female, to get sucked in to the fraternity scene, virtually deigning you a place in a pre-established, hierarchical, social society where being female puts you at the bottom of the scale in the respect you receive from your male peers.

There are so many ills that affect college women and to a greater extent, first-year women, because they are so vulnerable to a change in environment and new social variables that impact upon them emotionally. Eating disorders, problems such as date and acquaintance rape, alcohol and drug abuse and involvement in abusive relationships can be avoided, remedied or at least dealt with on an emotional level when an upperclass woman reveals to a first-year woman that she's been there also.

The bottom line is that women still need support from each other to exist on a campus where "frater" -- brotherhood -- is often times valued over all else. Women are not all one group and cannot be classified by one ideology. I'm not proposing that we get all foofy and love one another regardless of ideals. I do think that it's time though to stand up for ourselves and tell the administration and the alumni that we will continue to be strong at a place that constantly challenges a woman's strength of character. Women in solidarity have power. Coeducation is not a fact -- at Dartmouth it is often an ongoing struggle. Women here need to speak, shout and rage until a Dartmouth education for women no longer resembles brussel sprouts -- good for you, but difficult and fortifying. By sharing the wisdom we've gained over our years here, upperclass women can take their knowledge and effect a change for the better at Dartmouth, making it a place where all women and especially first-year women eventually feel welcome and respected.

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