W I N T E R 2 0 1 7 15 story of how some colleges for women failed after trying to stay single sex for too long. But arching over all those explanations of the historical, economic, and sociological trends that made it impossible for an entire system of woman’s colleges to each remain as single sex women’s colleges, there will be the giant figure of Jolley Christman. Jolley was clear-eyed in her work in the way that we hope all people who receive a liberal education will be: honest, analytical, and unflinching. Faced with the reality that the College’s considerable financial resources were being rapidly depleted by under-enrollment, she led the Board through a difficult process of looking at what the options for survival were. Everyone who served on the Board faced the results of their exploration with regret and sorrow, but they did not blink. The evidence made it clear that the College could not survive many more years as a single sex institution. Jolley held them together and lovingly worked to save the college that both she and her mother called their alma mater. Now, of course, it may seem on its face to be difficult to argue that admitting men to a liberal education was introducing it to a population of people to whom it had been historically denied. Liberal education had, after all, begun as an all-male enterprise. But as she reflected on the task before her during the year in which the Board examined the evidence about the College’s situation, Jolley was struck by an unexpected thought. Last year in her address at our Commencement, she said, “As a feminist and mother of a son, I also believed that a former woman’s college would be a particularly safe place to nurture feminist men and women who had the courage and tools to interrogate critically inequalities of gender, sexuality, race, and class.” These were no idle words from a woman who had devoted her life to helping improve the education of disadvantaged urban youth. One of the secrets that Jolley understood is that the day after the College became coeducational, it would still be a place that offered an excellent education to women. In a million ways that I cannot articulate, the faculty had learned by 2007 how to provide an education to women that gave them the skills for freedom. In our case, this was not because of the curriculum so much as it was because of the myriad ways that our faculty had learned to teach and advise. Classroom engagement was different here than at Amherst or Carleton. Likewise, advising women on how to make a flight path into professional success was a different (and always changing!) enterprise than it was when men were the main focus of a college. Let me give one concrete example of what I mean, also taken from Jolley’s Commencement address last year. Here she is quoting a student with whom she had spoken last January: “It’s hard to hide your talents at Randolph. If a professor knows that you’re good at something or you could potentially be good at something, they seek you out, and they put some pressure on you to grow a little bit.” Because Jolley understood this kind of small but very large difference in how we teach at Randolph, and because she understood that nothing fundamental would change about our instruction and advising the day after men were admitted to the College, she could see a new possibility for liberal education: men, too, could begin to see and benefit from an education that had been purpose-built to provide freedom to women. For surely, men are not free when women are limited and unfree. No person is truly free when they live in a system that holds others in captivity. As Nelson Mandela said, “…to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” What Jolley could see that many of her sisters could not see at the time the coed decision was made was the possibility that men could benefit from a different kind of education and a new self-understanding. And she understood that this could be realized by giving them the benefit of an education designed in its bones to cultivate free women through a kind of special attention and care of individuals and their dreams. Thus, I would argue Jolley sits perfectly with William Waugh, Miss Louise, and Bill. Each one of the four founders I have talked about today understood the potential of extending freedom and the hard work necessary in building an education for freedom. Each of our founders faced different forms of skepticism, opposition, and shear incredulity at the audacity of their dream. Each was bound by the social norms and conventions of their own time. But each was successful because they leaned against those social conventions and joyfully gave themselves to the work of extending freedom and shaping the ways that we understand it through liberal arts education. Each of us associated with this College has a distinguished heritage of which we rightfully take great pride. We are proud not because every moment is glorious or every act noble. We are proud because when the moment comes, we have always found a way to act as a community to extend and enhance freedom. This is our great history and it is our best future. Thank you.
Bulletin Winter 2017 Vol. 8 No. 1
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