Last year, when Esther Barazzone, president of Chatham University, announced that the Board of Trustees was considering going coeducational, there was outrage and heartbreak and confusion. There was a flood of complaints and protests. Friends and colleagues were torn apart by differing opinions.
As a journalist, I have an inherent excitement that comes with big news. This was the biggest news of my Chatham generation—and also just the biggest news in years. Chatham was about to be in headlines everywhere and I could not have been more eager to be at the center of it.
However, that does not mean that the announcement did not rattle or upset me.
I never had any particular interest in women’s colleges. That is not what drew me to Chatham at all. But after being here for a while, I had changed my mind. I had never felt safer walking alone at night. I loved that I could walk from the theater to Fickes at midnight, and not be afraid that somebody might assault me in the dark. I loved that I could be part of a learning environment where my opinion was always valued and seen as equally important.
When President Barazzone made this announcement, I felt betrayed. I felt that I had signed up for four years at a women’s college, and this was a breach of contract. They had promised me that experience for four years, and instead I would only get two.
Being at a women’s college had changed me. If I told my pre-Chatham self all of the things I could accomplish after finding my voice at Chatham, the old me never would have believed it.
I was afraid that bringing more men onto campus would snuff out my voice, and the voices of my fellow Chatham women. I had fears that they would come tearing onto campus and demand leadership positions—or take them by force. The thought of losing the Communiqué terrified me. I had put my heart and soul into this paper, and by my junior year, a man could rip it from my hands.
But we cannot lose our voices. We cannot let them quiet us. Feminism is not the idea that women should be more important than men—it is the idea that we are all equal and deserve equal opportunities.
I am a feminist.
Chatham has always been a place where feminists could find justice, and there is no reason why it should not continue to stay that way. The introduction of men should never stop us from fighting for equality; fighting for things like equal pay and respect.
Although I sincerely wish that Chatham would take more time with the transition to make sure that it goes more smoothly, I understand the time crunch. And I agree that I would rather see Chatham transform than disappear.
My hope is that in the big picture of things, Chatham will never change. We may introduce men, but they will be feminists. I hope that Chatham will remain a unique environment: a coed campus that is still safe, a school that makes an effort to teach feminism in everything it does, and a school that fosters empowered women no matter the circumstances.
Chatham may be changing, but my only concern at this point is that Chatham maintains its dignity and history. Just because men are coming does not mean that we can no longer be a proponent for change and equality. We have an incredible opportunity to educate men, and we cannot be afraid to take that first step.