Q&A With Columbia College Students
Tuesday, April 13, 1999
"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to ask questions of Washington Post reporters and editors and major newsmakers.
Bob is out of the office this week, teaching classes at Columbia College, a small women's liberal arts school in Columbia, South Carolina. His guests are three soon-to-graduate students who will talk--and answer questions--about entering the so-called "real world" of work and careers.
JENNIFER DAVIS is an English major from Naperville, IL. Her teachers call her "an outstanding writer." She has a 4.0 GPA and expects to study communications in graduate school.
SARAH NEUBERGER is an art major from Columbia who will graduate with honors and attend Pratt Institute for her MFA. She has been on the Dean's List and has been named "Art Student of the Year" for three years running.
What do these top students think about single-sex education, men, marriage, child-rearing, feminism, politics and the prospect of "doing it all"?
Here is a transcript of today's session:
Bob Levey: April, you've been accepted by some of the best law schools in the country. You're one of the most successful students Columbia College has ever produced. Do you think you've been intellectually challenged at a women's college?
Columbia College Students: The women's college environment fosters a great degree of self-confidence and independence in most students. I have learned to seek out personal challenges independently, even beyond the classroom, in order to get the most out of my college experience.
Bob Levey: Jennifer, why did you choose a single-sex school?
Columbia College Students: When seeking out a college, I did not specifically look for a single-sex environment; however, after looking over my options and weighing the pros and cons, I chose Columbia College because I felt that I would get the most out of my classes and build more confidence. I used to be very shy; I'm not any more!
Bob Levey: Sarah, as an artist, did you find an all-female college "safer" in some way?
Columbia College Students: I don't think that an all women's college is any safer. The safety may have perhaps come from being an art major in Columbia, South Carolina. --Sarah
Olney, Md.: General question: Is your school truly a single-sex school, or are there some men in it too? Do you think that some schools should be allowed to be strictly single-sex? Do you think some men-only schools, like the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute should have been allowed to remain single sex? As an aside, I know that VMI didn't even allow the cadets' mothers in the dorms; what were the limitations on male visitors to dorms at your school?
Columbia College Students: Columbia College is strictly a single-gender institution--except for the evening college and the graduate program which admits men. However, I very rarely see male students on campus.
Columbia, South Carolina: Do you think that going to an all women's college has made you a stronger feminist?
Columbia College Students: When I first came to Columbia College, I did not consider myself a feminist at all, and even despised the term. My mind has opened immensely, and I have developed a stronger identity of myself as a woman than I ever have before. Now I am proud to say that I am a feminist! ---April
For all three women:
Columbia College Students: I feel privileged to have grown up in a family and then attend a college where I was encouraged to do whatever I wanted to do. My experiences as a Columbia College student, both on an off campus, have shown me that women are more respected than ever as professionals and in other positions. I know that we will still struggle with issues in the "real world," but I feel confident that I can handle myself and speak up for myself. ----Jennifer
Richmond, Virginia: I have a comment rather than a question. I attended a women's college in Virginia and have always been proud of that fact. Many of may classmates are achievers and well-known in academic and professional circles. I was not able, however, to persuade my two daughters to attend a women's college anywhere: both chose co-ed, although both chosen schools are fine institutions. Why have women's colleges lost their appeal? I think my own experience was extremely valuable, in fact exceptional.
Columbia College Students: Perhaps, the reason they lost their appeal is because they don't have any sexual appeal to most women in high school. In addition, April adds that single-gender institutions, in the past, were geared toward stereo-typical woman's positions--primarily, teachers. --Sarah
In what ways have you been enlightened to women's issues across the disciplines? For example, have you found that women have been neglected in the field of history? To what extent does a women's institution play in this enlightenment?
Columbia College Students: Women have been neglected in history; I don't think that point is really debatable. What I have found on this campus is that there is a natural inclination to highlight achievements of women in all fields. In other words, whatever we are studying, we tend to be more aware of women's involvement in everything. ---April
Falls Church, VA: As I investigate high schools for my daughter, I'm leaning towards the single-sex environment so she'll develop assertiveness and confidence. Did any of you attend single-sex high schools? If not, do you wish you had? If so, did you find it beneficial?
Columbia College Students: I don't believe it is a deep-rooted desire to have gone to a single-sex high school. However, I do think that it would foster confidence and assertiveness for most young women. --Sarah
Columbia SC :
How do you think that hiring a woman president, for the first time in your college's history, has impacted your experience at Columbia College?
Columbia College Students: President Bonanno has been a role model for all students in the past two years. Her presence has given us another example to follow of a woman who has made it through male-dominated careers. Whether or not every student agrees with policy made or changed since her arrival, everyone has been impacted.
College Park, MD: I am a female student at the University of Maryland, a very diverse, coed school. I realize that one of the benefits of going to an all-female school is that it can be more "empowering" to women, but do you ever feel that you're lacking the "male perspective" in some of your class discussions?
Columbia College Students: There have been times in class discussions when I wished there were males around so we could hear what they have to say about a particular topic. However, I realize also that there are discussions we could never have, or at least not quite so in-depth as we have them, with men around because they might change the subject. For example, it is much easier to discuss female sexuality without guys in the room. Sarah also adds that we get the male perspective in the text books. I agree. ---April
Olney, Md.: A general question: I've heard that one reason for single-sex education is that some women feel more free to actively interact in class without seeming to look "threatening" or assertive, which might be considered an undesirable trait by men who the women might want to be interested in them. That kind of goes in hand with the general "less distraction" so more time to study idea, also. Do you think that that reason is still "needed" by some or is it being phased out by the changing times? [edited for space]
Columbia College Students: That reason assumes that all women are heterosexual. I hope this is being phased out. -- Sarah
Bob Levey: Your mothers came of age at a time when full equality in the workplace was a rarity. Today, it's far more common. Do you expect to avoid discrimination in the workplace throughout your lives?
Columbia College Students: No, I do not expect to avoid discrimination throughout my entire career and life. I do think, however, that I have grown as a person and, as I said before, can handle myself in such a situation. All I can do is to be my best and hope that others will recognize me for my work and talents. ---Jennifer
Bob Levey: There has been a ton of pressure on modern women to "do it all." I'm going to quote the modern woman I married: "You can do it all; you just can't do it all at once." Agree? Disagree?
Columbia College Students: I AGREE!! Anyone who looks at my schedule can see that I certainly attempt to do it all, and I don't intend to change in the future. I don't think that there's much difference between women over-achievers and men over-achievers, except that women are expected to have the babies and raise them, etc. In an egalitarian household, that wouldn't be an issue. ---April
About 25 minutes left in today's discussion. Keep 'em coming!
Washington, DC: I can’t believe we are wasting time and valuable Internet bandwidth on these silly, so-called “women’s” issues when we could be talking about Chipper and Timber, the Tidal Basin Beavers. Where are your priorities?
Columbia College Students: You're absolutely correct. The Beaver Movement has certainly opened our eyes to what is most important in our society today. --Sarah
Columbia College Students: I think that the written word is just as important as ever. Only then do we have a tangible record. I have peronally reverted back to using "real mail" when corresponding with people about something I want them to take seriously rather than calling them or using e-mail. People seem to respond more formally and intelligently to a letter rather than a phone call or an e-mail. ---Jennifer
Washington DC: You often hear people say that the best place to meet your future spouse is at college. Have you ever felt that your social lives somehow are lacking because you go to an all women's college? Is there a "brother" school nearby?
Columbia College Students: First of all, being at an all-female school does not mean you never meet guys. I have dated a reasonable amount throughout college, and have never had trouble meeting people. Unfortunately, on this campus there is a pervading thought that college IS about finding your future spouse. One of our biggest campus traditions is getting thrown in the fountain when you get engaged. Far too many of our students seem to be here to get their MRS. degree, and I think that's sad. ---April
Bob Levey: Once upon a time, college used to be about learning, thinking, dreaming. Today, colleges are widely viewed as employment preparation centers. Did you sense that during your college careers? Did you dislike it?
Columbia College Students: I think that, out of necessity, colleges are both places for generic learning and places to refine interests and talents to prepare for a career. I do not dislike the fact that colleges are seen as employment preparation centers--I am an English major who plans to be some sort of writer or do something with communication. Obviously, I am not restricted to one career! I think that the degree of restriction is something that students can impose upon themselves when they choose their majors. Attending a liberal arts institution also gives a well-rounded education (and a chance to dream and learn!) ---Jennifer
Bethesda, MD: Did your mothers work outside the home? If so, did that inspire you or did you miss having someone there for you constantly?
Columbia College Students: My mother was a teacher and we both went to school together. For a time, she did not work and I did not, in any way, feel that I was better off because of it. The question of whether or not to work is not the core issue. Rather, whether the child feels that they have a person in their life who loves them unconditionally and is there for them--not necessarily every second. --Sarah
Bob Levey: April, you mentioned that famous "MRS" degree. Do young women still seek that? I'd really be surprised if the answer is yes, because women have so many options today (probably even more than men). So why tie yourself down at the age of 22?
Columbia College Students: You would be amazed at how many women on this campus care about nothing as much as they care about getting their pretty little diamond before they graduate. Even students who aren't that determined to get married jump on the bandwagon. The feeling is so strong that those of us who are not so intent on being engaged before getting a diploma sometimes wonder if there's something wrong with us! --April
Washington, DC: To what degree to you feel that being immersed in a women's-only classroom was actually harmful to your -or other students'- ability to speak up for yourselves? Seems to me that, having gone to a coed school, I learned how to talk up in class, where people were my peers, regardless of gender. Now I can speak up in office meetings. If women are used to being "coddled," then how are they going to transfer the confidence gained in a classroom with only 19-21 year old women to an office meeting run by 45 year old men?
Columbia College Students: I also do not feel that I am being coddled in my college classes. Being in an all-female environment has allowed me to practice speaking up and forming my thoughts into coherent statements. I have worked in an internship where I have had to speak up and share my ideas, and I have not had a problem. As I mentioned before, I used to be very quiet. After being able to hear my own voice without it being overpowered by others, I have been able to gain more confidence. Research has shown that males are called on more often than females in a classroom situation---not so here. Women are called on 100 percent. ---Jennifer
Silver Spring, MD :
I'm assuming that all of you are in your early twenties. Why should someone with so little life and work experience be on Bob Levey's chat giving others their opinions about women's issues?
Columbia College Students: You cannot make assumptions about a person's life experiences based on her age. I know students in my classes who are married with children, work full-time, etc. You do not know that none of us has had any of those experiences. Also, we are not here to tell anyone how to live or what is right. We are merely sharing our experiences and answering questions. ---April
Arlington, VA: What do you think about Elizabeth Dole? What women are your role models today?
Columbia College Students: I don't think much about Elizabeth Dole. One of my role models is Anita Roddick. --Sarah
Bob Levey: What if the marketplace "tells" Columbia College that single-sex schools are no longer popular (or no longer as popular). Can you imagine this school becoming co-ed? After all, the Ivy League schools have done it, even though their alumni bitterly opposed it at the time.
Columbia College Students: I cannot imagine this school becoming co-ed. As was stated earlier, the evening college and graduate program is co-ed. I also do not think that the marketplace will dictate the future of Columbia College. Every year, this school receives more applications than the previous year, and the SAT scores rise each year. Everyone on this campus believes in the value of single-gender education and I don't believe that any move toward creating a co-ed environment would be met with enthusiasm. ---Jennifer
Back to the discrimination issue...
Columbia College Students: Discrimination exists everywhere. I have felt it and will continue to feel it. Besides, what's so wrong with not being exposed to sexist, racist, etc...remarks and attitudes? --Sarah
columbia,sc: what do you think about women in politics? [edited for space]
Columbia College Students: The question is broad, so I'll do my best to comment. I spent February 1998 in Washington doing an internship in my congressman's office, and was able to observe politics in action. My belief is that this is the age of the woman in politics. We will continue to increase in number in elected positions, and our influence will be great. It's time for women to participate in the decision-making process in government so that issues that affect us will not be overlooked. I think we will see a woman president within the next 20 years. (I hope!!) ---April
That's it for today. Many thanks for being with us. Be sure to join us next Tuesday, April 20, when our guest will be the new editor of The Washington Post's Style section, Eugene Robinson. Nor should you forget that we do an anything-goes version of this show on Fridays. It's called "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." It appears from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.