Something is in the air this spring on the campus of Marymount University. Truckloads of steel-enforced dining room chairs are arriving, and an order has been placed for 50 extra-long mattresses.
The dining room is anticipating a heavy chow-down. And the athletic department has hired two coaches for teams that don't even exist.
Men are coming to Marymount.
For the first time in its 37-year history, the North Arlington institution, founded by Catholic nuns as a two-year women's college, will be home to about 50 resident undergraduate men this September.
They're not the first males to enroll, however. Marymount went coed when it became a four-year college in 1973, and currently has about 90 men in its undergraduate student body of 1,500. About half of its 1,000 graduate students are men.
But September will see the first men residents on the 18-acre campus, and their impending arrival means changes, large and small.
"They're raising shower heads," Provost Alice S. Mandanis said recently. "And the beds are on order -- extra-length . . . . We're already expecting about six basketball players that are 6 feet 5 inches. We saw two in the dining room today. Let's just say I saw two 'trees' in the dining room."
Marymount's switch to coeducation was not universally welcomed by its students.
"I really wasn't thrilled about it in the beginning," said Michelle Gilliam, 21, who will be a senior this fall. "Now, it's very comfortable and casual. What you look like when you go to class is not one of your first considerations."
Students were officially notified last summer of the decision to accept men residents.
"I was intimidated by men in the classroom in high school," said Laury Eberhard, 21, who also will be a senior and will serve as Co-curricular Council chairman. "To get a letter during the summer was hard. I was livid. I thought more than once about not coming back."
While Gilliam and Eberhard say they have grown more accepting of the idea, Beverly Bailey, 21, who is finishing her undergraduate work at Marymount this summer, said she regrets she will not be around to experience the change.
"I think it's definitely going to be different," she said. "And probably a little chaotic."
In preparing for the men residents, university officials are wrestling with thought-provoking questions such as where to put them and how much will they eat.
"We've been told we should never put men in a separate facility," Mandanis said. " . . . Guys tend to trash dormitories when they're alone."
The plan is to house them on two floors of Gerard Hall, one of three dormitories for the university's 600 resident students.
In addition, "we may have to look at the cafeteria arrangement," said Mandanis, noting that men and women eat "uneven amounts." Students pay a set fee for a meal, but a better system might be for them to pay according to how much they eat, she said.
"As we get more young men eating in the dining room, I imagine they will eat a lot more," Food Service Director Beth Cogswell said. "Although I must say the young women eat a tremendous amount."
"One thing we're doing immediately is redoing the entire dining room," Mandanis said. "The chairs are getting old. Right now they're wooden. We're getting steel."
"We want to make sure we have nice strong chairs for the young men," said Sister Michelle Murphy, Marymount's vice president for financial affairs, who said the university is spending about $10,000 to replace 500 chairs.
There are also changes on the athletic front. Two coaches were hired to recruit men for varsity competition next year in basketball and soccer.
Athletic Director Laurie Priest said she lost sleep worrying about the upcoming games. "I'm setting up this schedule, and what if we don't have 11 guys?" she said.
But recruiting has gone well, according to men's basketball coach Webb Hatch, who said: "You do a lot of recruiting by phone, you do a lot of recruiting by mail. We wrote every high school coach in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey."
University officials expect about 20 of the nearly 50 men who applied to Marymount as a result of basketball recruiting to enroll.
The athletic facilities are being renovated, and a weight room is being turned into a men's locker room.
"We're trying to upgrade," Priest said. "We really want to recruit men. Facilities talk."
Mandanis, who said men and women are subject to the same academic standards for admission, said university officials hope to have a balanced undergraduate population within about five years.
Meanwhile, students say it will take a good man to survive.
"The guys who come here are going to have to be very self-assured," Eberhard said. "The women who go here are very comfortable, very assured, very energetic. The men are going to have to prove themselves."