women's colleges

Heather Corbett hcorbett at bisance.citi2.fr
Fri Nov 24 06:10:07 EST 1995

: Sweden. I'm presently taking a class about women and (their) research in
: the sciences. In this class I'm going to write a paper on women colleges,
: how sex segregated class romms work, if women at women's colleges do
: better (mainly in sciences, maths) than women who go to co-ed universities

Dear Karin,
	While I can not offer you statistics, I can tell you al little about 
my personal experience. I went to a women's college (Wellesley) and
the greatest benefit I derived from it was the presence of role models
- both peers and older. The faculty at Wellesley is divided about
50-50 male/female - no co-ed university could offer this! I also spent
a year at Somerville College in Oxford University which at the time was
all women - all the professors as well as the students. I think this
worked less well. The important benefit is derived from having top
professors, whatever their gender, with an eye on encouraging their
female students, and a supportive learning environment. My peers
were women I respected a great deal, who went on to make the myriad
choices available to an educated woman - law school, family, doctorates,
Peace Corps, Watson fellowships. Some travelled and some stayed at home.
But to learn that all these choices are legitimate is a lesson that
I think is harder to assimilate in a co-ed environment. Self-worth
in America seems to be based very much on the prestige of one's employment.
At Wellesley I was able to see that intelligent women from my college
were present in every sector of society, and that self-judgement of
one's worth is more important than someone else's opinion. Women who
came out of Wellesley seemed to be proud of their choices.
	Whether they are or not, I couldn't tell you! But I am at least.
I am doing a doctorate in developmental neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
At Wellesley I had a great role model in the form of my undergrad thesis
advisor, a woman who did both fine research and has a family of husband
and three kids of whom she is justifiably proud. At Berkeley I came
into a similarly progressive environment, though my advisor is a man.
My classmates are equally divided as far as gender is concerned (not 
by race, unfortunately for those few minority members of the class, who
don't find those role models with whom to identify yet). And yet, funny thing,
very few of them are married, and none have children to my knowledge.
I think that I can trace back to Wellesley not only the belief that
I will be a good researcher but that I can realize my potential as
a woman at the same time. Why not start a family while doing a doctorate?
Who says that you have to be 100% established with tenure first (though
Io see that the security is attractive). I know, from my experience
at Wellesley, that there exist those who will judge me on the total of
my accomplishments. When I don't find them, I now have the courage to
create my own niche if necessary. What a gift, this confidence!
	Who do I admire more than the woman physician in our laboratory,
who has just finished her PhD, runs a practice, has three school-age
children and manages to write her articles nonetheless! Don't I
count her family as one of her many accomplishments, and marvel at
her organizing ballet lessons as well as running successful cDNA
library screens?
	Sorry to be rambling, but I wanted to offer my testimony to 
the intangible benefits of all-woman's colleges. The day when a co-ed
college can offer the same role models, the same cooperativity between
the students regardless of their gender, the same prestige for art
history as for astrophysics despite the predominance of women in the
former and men in the latter, I will admit that women's colleges 
(and black colleges, and so on) are no longer needed. Perhaps in Sweden
this system is already in place. I know that in France, where I am
working presently, the university system is sufficiently alienating
that both men and women are equally lost in it. THere is also less
participation in the lectures and what in the US we call 'discussion
sections'. It is a more passive learning process, which is conceivably
more egalitarian on the surface. Yet the CNRS is made up very
predominantly of male-run laboratories!
	Enough - good luck for your research paper.

Heather Etchevers

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