Wheaton Remodels Coeducation
A former women's college works to extend its traditions to the men now admitted as students
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In addition, an on-going program called the Teaching/Learning Project was created to foster a ``learning environment that is equally hospitable to both men and women,'' Dr. Goldberg says.Skip to next paragraph
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The college holds monthly teaching effectiveness workshops in which faculty learn to be aware of biases in their teaching practices.
``Our faculty is tremendously committed to developing students as active learners,'' Goldberg says.
``What's interesting about Wheaton is that unlike other schools that started going coed ... Wheaton said, `Let's study the process as it's going on,''' says Catherine Krupnick, a consultant hired to do research at Wheaton.
``Women's colleges have a tradition of preparing women to go against society's expectations of them,'' says Wheaton's president, Alice F. Emerson. ``Now we're trying to do the same thing for women and men together.''
The president cannot conceal her excitement as she explains Wheaton's transformed mission: ``Now we're saying that in order to empower women they have to learn how to successfully be partners with men. The men are trying to learn how to be partners with women.''
Dr. Emerson still sees a role for women's colleges. ``The ways in which women's colleges can counteract stereotypes is probably still more effective than the ways in which coeducational colleges can in some areas,'' she says.
She points to a distinction missing in the discussion of coeducation. ``Coeducational colleges that started as men's colleges and have as their predominant historic culture men's values and interests are different from the ones that started with women's values and interests. You can't just say coeducational and single-sex; you have to say coeducational standing on what root,'' Emerson says.
Many of the students comment on the increased social life on campus.
``It's socially different,'' says senior-class president Collins, ``It's made Wheaton more of a seven-day campus.'' The students no longer have to retreat to other campuses to find dates and weekend activities.
Stanley De Silva is one of the 80 pioneering men who entered Wheaton in 1988. Joining the first class of men at Wheaton ``represented an interesting challenge,'' says Mr. De Silva, who graduated from an all-male high school.
``It wasn't perfect,'' De Silva says of the first year. But he never had any confrontations with senior women. ``If anything the seniors that I knew were very receptive, and very open, and very helpful,'' he says.
Hostilities have come to the surface at times, however. This year's ``Senior Hell Night,'' a customary celebration involving sprays of shaving cream and streams of toilet paper, led to threatened violence and verbal conflict.
One incident involved a freshman male who brandished a bullwhip at a group of senior women. The young man was arrested. ``It was the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding, but also a troubled student,'' says Sue Alexander, dean of students.
Another incident occurred the same night when underclass students lashed out at the seniors. They yelled obscenities and threw water balloons and firecrackers at the senior women. Dean Alexander characterizes the activity as a ``clash of campus cultures.''
STUDENTS have complained of animosity between the senior women and the underclassmen, both male and female. ``There's a feeling of loss on the part of the upperclasswomen that the underclasswomen are not quite the same as they are,'' says Debbie Kreutzer, a sophomore chemistry major from Seattle.
The seniors ``lament the fact that the entering women students seem to have less of a feminine consciousness than they now do,'' Alexander says.
``And I always have to remind them that when they arrived four years ago they didn't have much of a feminine consciousness either,'' she says. ``That has been a product of four years at Wheaton College, and it's our intent that that not be lost in a coeducational Wheaton.''
John Kricher, a biology professor at Wheaton since 1970, says the campus has become much more lively in the past two years since men were admitted.
In his classes, he finds that men have the same educational needs as women. It's ``surprising how much the males need nurturing as well,'' he says. ``My students have the same uncertainties as before - it just happened that they were female voices before.''