Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
coeducation, union, college, male, students
In September of 1970, women first set foot onto the nearly two-centuries-old grounds of Union College as full-time undergraduate students. Although female students were brought to campus, Union did not provide them a fully coeducational experience. These “pioneer” women faced unequal opportunities as entrenched gender bias and all-male traditions permeated most facets of college life. By using gender as the central focus to examine coeducation, and approaching the topic from a historical as well as feminist perspective, the sundry trials and errors of those early years of coeducation at Union College become manifest. As Union struggled with the question, decision, and implementation of coeducation, the college followed a national trend in higher education and experienced many of the same challenges as other schools. Many scholars have studied coeducation in secondary schooling or the popularity of coeducation in higher education during the 1960s. Numerous works discuss women in the classroom, but they often neglect to acknowledge the enormous influence extra-curricular activities and interactions play in an undergraduate’s experience. Critical examination of institutional records and close analysis of personal anecdotes—gathered from surveys and interviews of female and male graduates as well as faculty members—together suggest that certain behaviors, expectations, and experiences of coeducation were pervasive at Union. This thesis concentrates on women’s experiences in different avenues of college life during the first decade of coeducation at Union. By 1968, the college’s administration became quite concerned that most of its competitors had begun to abolish single-sex matriculation policies in favor of coeducation. In addition, financial difficulties, the declining quality of male students, and a high-achieving but untapped pool of prospective applicants contributed to the institution’s decision to undertake such a change. Yet, despite the national emergence of “women’s liberation” concurrently with Union’s decision, the college clearly did not admit women because of feminism’s impact or any potential benefits for female students. As a result of this male-made and male-centered decision, early female students experienced the limitations of Union’s attempt at coeducation in academics and in their extra-curricular lives. A disparity existed within the faculty between the sexes, the curriculum was not gender-balanced, and women experienced bias from some male students and professors in the classroom. The nearly non-existent opportunities in extra-curricular life in housing, sports, sororities, and other activities negatively affected how women felt about the value Union placed on them as students deserving of equality. Many faced sexual harassment, and all suffered from unequal budgeting and fewer options for an active social life than their male counterparts. It is safe to say that drastic social progress, such as the introduction of coeducation, never comes easy. This thesis provides a focused analysis of and insight into the lives of Union’s female students while radical change was implemented close to forty years ago. When women initially arrived on campus, the college was not prepared to include them fully and equally. Blatant sexism started to subside as men accustomed themselves to women’s presence in their previously and exclusively male space, and as the effects of feminism became more accepted in American society. However, there has still been somewhat of a constant struggle for women to achieve full equality with men in various areas of college life. Indeed, Union presently grapples with society-wide problems like sexism and gender-bias. In this thesis it is demonstrated that the question of what it means to be a truly coeducational institution of higher education is still being answered today, both at Union and in America at large.
Shotzbarger, Carol A., "A more perfect Union? : educating men and women together at Union College, 1970-1980" (2008). Honors Theses. 1495.