Once-dreaded males now norm at Goucher College: Most of the school's students accept its coeducational status, but some alumnae resent the admission of men.

10 years of coeducation

September 18, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Ten years after Goucher College's world was turned upside down, most students at the former women's school don't give a second thought to its status as a coeducational college.

But, a decade ago, their female predecessors carried signs saying "Better Dead Than Coed" and "Men Are Not The Answer."

And the students hung black balloons at the college entrance in Towson when the board of directors voted overwhelmingly to end 100 years of a women-only tradition in 1986.

"There were a lot of tears when they made the decision," said Jenifer Mitchell Reed, Class of 1986. "But it piped down very quickly."

This fall, 290 male students attend Goucher with 747 women -- a big increase over the first semester in 1987 when only one male was on campus.

Though tempers have cooled over the years, some still worry about the effects of coeducation on women.

A study done five years ago by two Goucher professors suggested that women may not fare as well in coeducational classrooms as in single-sex settings.

And while alumnae, for the most part, have come to accept the college's new role, some still feel betrayed.

Marlene Trestman, an assistant attorney general who graduated in 1978, said she still gets negative responses from graduates during her fund-raising efforts.

They ask not to be solicited, she said. The reason written on response cards is "very upset coed."

"My guess is they're geographically removed," Trestman said. "It was a loss and a shock. But there are wonderful things going on at Goucher."

The swirl of change seems to have escaped most current students at the school on Dulaney Valley Road.

"I can't notice any difference," said senior Brian Fortman, 20, captain of the men's soccer team. "It's a great academic school."

Even freshmen seem surprised anyone would make a fuss about Goucher admitting men.

"I didn't want to go to a single-sex college," said Michelle Farber, 18, eating pancakes for breakfast recently in the dining hall. "Goucher offered more opportunity than any place else."

Goucher's tumultuous decision to become coeducational came in response to economic and demographic pressures in the 1980s. Enrollment was dropping as the number of high school graduates dwindled and fewer teen-age girls were choosing women's colleges.

Then-President Rhoda M. Dorsey, who retired two years ago and now is out of the country, said in a 1986 Sun article, "I feel this is the best decision for this college at this time."

Nationwide, there are 83 women's colleges compared with almost 300 in 1960. "The adolescent culture demanded a coeducational environment," said Jadwiga Sebrechts, executive director of the Washington-based Women's College Coalition.

At Goucher, Jonathan Monheit, 19, a transfer student from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, became the first -- and only -- male student on campus in January 1987. His classmates were 800 women.

"A lot of people were upset about it," recalled Monheit, 28, who took his bar exam this summer and lives near Pikesville. "There was a lot of waiting and watching."

He chose Goucher because it was "convenient and I wanted a good, liberal arts college."

Life on campus went smoothly, he said. He lived in a dormitory, studied and made friends -- and, yes, he dated Goucher women.

"I had a very unique experience," said Monheit, who is married to a woman he met in Thailand, where he taught English after graduating from Goucher. "It's not often a white male in America gets a taste of what it's like to be a minority."

By fall 1987, he had company. Thirty-two more men had come on board.

Changes occurred almost immediately -- from males disproportionately taking on leadership roles to influences on the school newspaper that some say took a more argumentative stance.

Also, after the first year, male students added fangs to the school's traditionally cuddly gopher mascot -- and named him Mortimer.

A more serious concern, though, was raised in a study on Goucher's transition to coeducation, which suggested that the change may have hurt the quality of education for women students.

"Female students become less and less inclined to interact as more and more males are in the classroom," said L. Richard Pringle, a Goucher professor of psychology who compiled the research data on classroom dynamics from 1986 to 1992 with Katherine Canada, a professor who has left the college. "It was a signal not all was well."

He is hopeful Goucher's administration has become more conscious of the repercussions. "I do think the power structure is more sensitive in the last five years."

Judy Jolley Mohraz, who succeeded Dorsey as president of Goucher, says the study was done relatively early in the era of coeducation. "Every year, there's a further evolution," she said.

She also said the faculty continues to examine issues of gender and to look at other research on coeducation.

"We are not a women's college that happens to admit men," she said. "We want to empower men and women -- and neither at the expense of the other."

Cara Stillinger, a 21-year-old senior who attended a coeducational public high school in Burlington, Vt., said she is comfortable academically at Goucher with males in the classroom. "I don't feel intimidated at all."

Women students and others say that Goucher males get a better perspective on gender issues than do their peers at larger, coeducational institutions where males may dominate.

"There still have been a few times when I looked around and my eyes opened that I'm the only male in class," said senior Sam McColl, 22.

But he said he has learned a lot about women's issues. "There's so much I never thought to be aware of, even small things, like the difference between [using the words] 'girls' and 'women.' "

Said alumna Reed, a project manager at NCR, "I still think it's a great place, and I want to support it."

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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