By Rebecca Shaw
During the last week of summer vacation, I visited Boston and accompanied my 16-year-old sister as she toured colleges and universities. One afternoon, we decided to shop at Faneuil Hall. After entering a store and trying on shoes, my family and I began talking to the manager of the store. Within minutes of the conversation, I found out that his daughter graduated from Bryn Mawr in 2010.
It amazed me that in a tourist-oriented marketplace, several cities away from Philadelphia, I was able to meet someone connected to BMC. The network of alumnae, students, and associations is so significant. My hometown neighbor from the across the street went to BMC. She studied the Growth and Structure of Cities when it first became a major. My high school English teacher graduated from BMC about ten years ago. While working at a department store, I told a customer where I went to school, and she excitedly told me about how she was raised in Rosemont, Penn., and loved visiting BMC’s campus.
When you multiply this network by seven, or even by the five remaining Seven Sister colleges, you have a pretty substantial network of people who love and care deeply about their current schools and alma maters.
Vicky Chu, the student who transferred to Wesleyan University from Bryn Mawr, did not quite realize the significance of that network when she wrote the much discussed opinion article for her university’s newspaper last October, which she later retracted. The article lambasted BMC and and indicted all women’s colleges based on the stereotypes about “girls’ schools.” In an article written by Rayna Allonce at the end of October,. community members shared how they felt about it. I don’t know Chu personally, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she learned from the experience.
Yet, after reading Chu’s blog post on Tumblr on Feb. 13, called I’d Rather Be Co-ed than Dead: Apology Uncensored in which she brought up the article again and apologized for it in a none-too-apologetic manner, I’m compelled to reflect on my own experiences as a junior at Bryn Mawr College, and thereby respond to her Tumblr post.
It’s convenient that it’s Hell Week at the moment, since traditions are such an important aspect of BMC. Hell Week is a time to welcome the frosh and celebrate the seniors. It’s a period where the sophomores take responsibility and teach frosh about BMC. It’s a time for juniors to reflect. This tradition is something unique to BMC and it unites the campus as a community; it’s not an experience you would get at a typical liberal arts college or university.
During my time at BMC, I have taken classes at Bryn Mawr, Haverford and the University of Pennsylvania via the Quaker Consortium. My choices in courses were not about relying on the co-ed institutions. I don’t think that BMC limits my opportunities. Instead, the consortiums and resources provided by Bryn Mawr allow me to fully use the city of Philadelphia and help me broaden my horizons.
I appreciate that I have had the chance to take criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, to supplement my interest in law. I’m glad that I’m able to intern in Philadelphia at the Education Law Center, because I’m taking a Grassroots Politics research seminar at Haverford this semester. Yes, these experiences facilitate interactions and friendships with males on a daily basis. That is one of the points of the Bi-Co, Tri-Co and Quaker Consortiums.
Personally, I don’t view these classes through a male-female ratio lens. It really doesn’t matter to me if there are zero men, one or two men, ten men or 50 men in the classroom. What matters to me is how I come to understand the material, how I become a better critical thinker, the connections I make in the classroom, and the accessibility of the professors. I’m grateful that, as a Creative Writing minor, I write constantly and receive feedback from my professors and classmates.
The single-sex aspect of Bryn Mawr College enhanced my education during my time here, both inside and outside the classroom. Last year, I participated in the Leadership Empowerment and Advancement Program (LEAP) and now I’m one of two LEAP student coordinators. LEAP is a year-long program where a group of about 16 BMC students explore different aspects of leadership, such as active listening and understanding conflict.
Students learn about their leadership styles. They are given the practical tools to become effective leaders both on Bryn Mawr College’s campus, and in the professional world. In effect, this program helps women learn how to become strong, influential leaders. It’s about helping students find their voice, and understand that while there may be prejudices and stereotypes outside of BMC, they have the power to overcome those challenges.
It’s difficult enough that people in the “real” world use and perpetuate stereotypes to define women. Nobody deserves to be discriminated on the basis of his or her sexual orientation, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class. Women don’t deserve to be defined as “stupid,” “militant feminists,” “snobs,” or “desperate.” I’m proud that the students, faculty, staff and alumnae at Bryn Mawr College don’t categorize students in this way.
I’m proud that there are spaces where students can discuss issues such as feminism, LGBTQ issues, religion, sex, socioeconomic class, leadership, politics, body image and ethnic affinities in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
Sure, some may say this supportive environment might disappear after graduation, but I don’t think so. I think that this type of support will never waver. The overwhelming response to Vicky Chu’s article in October from the communities of all the remaining Seven Sisters institutions proves this point. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the Bryn Mawr community.