Jonah Goldberg is a guy who loves a good joke, even upon entering the kind of maelstrom created as Goucher College went coed four years ago. So when Jonah ran for freshman class president that year as one of 32 new men on the campus of 942 students, his perhaps inevitable slogan was, "You let me into your school, now let me be your president."
Goucher's women, still seized by the anger that accompanied the loss of their all-woman school, didn't laugh. And they decided they certainly didn't need any uppity men telling them what to do. Jonah lost handily.
But you know what they say. You can't keep a good man down. Four years later, the women who chose Goucher because they wanted a single-sex school are gone. The strife and the anger that accompanied those first years are gone. And so are many of the woman leaders at a college that existed for more than 100 years to create woman leaders.
Today, Goucher has 176 men and 658 women enrolled as undergraduates. Today, Jonah Goldberg is co-editor of the student newspaper, with his best friend, Andy Kollegger. Another pal, Steve Zimmer, is president of student government. And so it goes -- the president of the junior class, the editor of the yearbook, the editor of the literary magazine -- they're all men.
Why are the men being elected to all the top jobs when Goucher has numerous smart, talented women? Were the women right who argued so strongly that single-sex education was desperately needed to encourage women as leaders? "On a larger scale than Goucher," says Heather Colmore, a senior, thinking of what will become of the women in the wider society, "it makes me very nervous and disheartened."
Four years after admitting its first coed class to the serene campus in Towson, Goucher College has been profoundly transformed. Professors gazing ruminatively from office onto courtyard find their attention caught by a growing bustle along the once sedate paths that connect the decorous fieldstone buildings. A new rowdiness pervades the formerly polite student newspaper. Goucher has its own social life, no longer serving as sort of an exclusive dating preserve for men from Johns Hopkins University and the Naval Academy. Campus events have taken on brash themes, with a recent gathering advertised as an "acid" party (Do you dare to have this much fun?) supplanting tropical sun-and-sand themes.
Students, faculty and administrators describe many of these changes in approving, even grateful, tones and only a few specialists in the differences between the sexes pause to ask with some alarm why it is that the rough-and-tumble characteristics associated with men are somehow seen as more desirable than the quieter, less physical atmosphere associated with women.
And when the occasional question arises about why so few men are running so many things, the typical response is an emphatic "But the women voted for them!"
That's precisely the point, says Katherine Canada, an assistant professor of psychology at Goucher. "When I hear someone say, 'Well, the women elected them,' I just have to sigh. Yes, they elected them, and how could we expect otherwise? That's the way it is in our society, and they're conforming to what they see in our national leadership positions. Women are in the majority, and yet they elect mostly men. We live with these stereotypes."
The enormously powerful impact of gender is being played out at Goucher with awesome implications. It was hard enough for women to battle overt sexual discrimination in the last 20 years -- what does it mean if the world is so powerfully and subtly male-defined that women can't even see the boundaries they're trying to expand?
Four years into coeducation, nothing at Goucher is as it seems. After months of painful and even tearful campus debate among many women who argued that the opportunity for single-sex education was absolutely imperative because it has traditionally produced strong woman leaders and disproportionate numbers of woman scientists, Goucher trustees decided to admit men in a desperate attempt to reverse a precipitous decline in enrollment.
Enrollment got a temporary jump-start, but this year's freshman class of 143 students is perilously low. What was supposed to become a vibrant new Goucher is instead one threatened with a slide into faculty layoffs and severe financial problems. What was supposed to produce a new vision for the future has instead, faculty members say, left Goucher with no clear sense of purpose. And the transformation that has produced a lively, energetic campus may actually obscure the complete and imperceptible extent to which the male way of doing things is the good way of doing things -- at Goucher and everywhere.
As Goucher attempts to define its future -- there is intense debate on campus now over a new strategic plan developed by an outside consultant that calls for Goucher to present itself as "the best of the old, the best of the new" -- the issue of gender becomes compelling.