Women’s colleges foster close community

October 22, 2015 — by Gwynevere Hunger and Hannah Payne

According to SHS graduates,  all-female schools serve as important stepping stones for the gender equality movement.

With the college app process in full swing for the Class of 2016, seniors are finalizing their college lists. Nearly all will apply to the UCs, an optimistic few will choose Ivy League schools and still others will try for CSUs.

Few will apply to all-female schools, which are often overlooked in the application process. And yet, according to SHS graduates,  all-female schools serve as important stepping stones for the gender equality movement.

“Women empowerment is a really powerful force on [those] campuses, and you can see its effects in classrooms, day-to-day interactions and clubs,” Class of 2015 alumna Supriya Khandekar said.

Khandekar should know: She attends the women’s college Barnard, one of the Seven Sisters and four undergraduate colleges of Columbia. The school is a prominent liberal arts college with the educational resources of a larger university.

Barnard professors lecture by drawing upon unique and underrepresented viewpoints, especially those of women, ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ community, Khandekar said. Such lectures force women to come out of their comfort zone and speak out.

Class of 2014 alumna Zofia Trujillo also attends Barnard and appreciates the home she has found there.

“Being [in] a smaller community of just girls is an amazing experience,” Trujillo said. “I live on campus, and there really is such a strong sense of community and comfort that I think is lacking at a co-ed college.”

Barnard helps to cultivate this community through support programs that better students’ experiences at the school. With the “Well Woman” program, for instance, students are able to receive massages and de-stress from their college courses.

“What makes Barnard special are the opportunities and programs that focus on women, and the [emphasis on] female representation,” Trujillo said.

Often, the idea of having little interaction with males throughout college prevents students from applying to women’s colleges. Trujillo, however, said she spends time with male students every day, as some of her Barnard classes are integrated with male and female students from Columbia. Some classes are women-specific and only available to Barnard students, whereas others are elective classes that may be available through Columbia.

Wellesley College in Massachusetts, another all-women’s university,  works similarly, according to Wellesley student and  class of 2013 alumna Bhavana Vadrevu.

Wellesley combines a liberal arts education with offerings of high level STEM classes through cross-registration at MIT, Harvard College and Brandeis University. As a small liberal arts school, Wellesley provides students with professor interaction through small class sizes of 12 to 24 students,  allowing students to take core classes with engaged teachers.

Vadrevu, a neuroscience major, takes a variety of math and science classes at MIT and humanities classes at Wellesley. She has found a stark difference between the college culture and the Bay Area high school culture. 

“At Wellesley, the general Silicon Valley idea that technology is crucial in all career paths simply doesn't exist,” Vadrevu said. “I think being a part of the Silicon Valley necessitates thinking of things in technical concepts, and it's interesting to be surrounded by people who don’t care to code.”

As well as allowing students to experience many different academic opportunities, Wellesley provides each student with a strong alumni support system for life after college. According to LinkedIn, Wellesley’s Alumni Network is sometimes called the most powerful women’s network in the world.

“Every Wellesley graduate that I met was someone I wanted to be like. [They were] all-around amazing people,” Vadrevu said. “All the [alumni] came from such different backgrounds and interests.”

For Vadrevu, another deciding factor in choosing Wellesley was its location in the Boston area. Just 12 miles west of Boston, female students are able to interact with the other 120,000 college students from more than 120 colleges and universities in the Boston Area. This allows the women to interact with men on a daily basis.

Despite these interactions, the transition from SHS to an all-women’s college is a difficult adjustment for some. Without any male presence on Wellesley’s campus, the dynamics of the school are bound to be different.

According to Vadrevu, there is less emphasis on looks and more on each person feeling comfortable in her  own body. Vadrevu also noted that social groups in high school tend to form around relationships, whereas at Wellesley,  students form connections over personal values and experiences.

Although many female students hesitate to apply to a women’s college, Khandekar and Vadrevu both insist that it is a wise decision.

“I felt that Barnard would prepare me to be the woman I always envisioned myself to be,” Khandekar said. “I truly feel that this is going to be a transformative experience, and I have never felt more proud to be a woman.”

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