The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


Alison Bernstein visits Chatham to discuss successfully transitioning to a coed university

Most know by now that there will be great change coming to Chatham University as the institution prepares to welcome coeducation within all the Chatham University Colleges and Schools in the fall of 2015.

Alison Bernstein, Director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership Consortium at Rutgers University, visited Chatham with faculty, staff, and students in the midst of the fall semester to discuss the transition of women’s colleges to coeducation.

As an institution, Chatham is using the fall semester to gain perspectives in areas regarding coeducation, commitment to women’s leadership, and vertically integrated colleges and schools.

Bernstein brings relevant experience to this conversation through her position as Vice President of the Ford Foundation’s program on Knowledge, Creativity, and Free Expression. In her current role at Rutgers University, Bernstein is also a professor in the Department of Women and Gender studies. Most recently, Bernstein is editing an eight-volume series called “Junctures: Case Studies in Women’s Leadership.”

To begin the session, Bernstein introduced four features to focus on when transitioning to coeducation. The first feature centered around space. In her opinion, a welcoming, nonexclusive space for students needs to be created.

“Do not privilege the new over the old. Social conditions cannot be ignored,” Bernstein said.

The second key element is diversity in leadership. During her time teaching at Princeton University, Bernstein noticed that even years after Princeton’s transition to coeducation, the diversity in faculty leadership positions was sparse.

Next, the curriculum is an important piece to study during a time of transition.  Bernstein made note that the legacy embracing women’s education and commitment to a gendered analysis here at Chatham should remain.

Finally, a new way of thinking about co-curricular activities will make the coeducational transition more effective. Intramural sports came to the forefront of the discussion.

In the open dialogue, Bernstein shared that she was a part of the last all female undergraduate class to graduate at Vassar College before the institution became fully coeducational in 1969. Her own experiences connect closely with many current Chatham students.

In the 1970s, there were approximately 300 single sex colleges in the United States. Today, that number has dwindled to about 50.

“There was a bold experiment in women’s education that spanned over a 50 year period. What is the bold experiment now?,” Bernstein said.

As Chatham University transitions, Bernstein reminded her audience to be self-reflective and not chose the old path of coeducation. Leadership and professional development can create an enterprise where men are partners.

“Do something bold with coeducation, because now is the moment to take risks. No one has figured how to do coeducation the right way, so do it,” Bernstein said.

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