Better Dead Than Co-Ed?

Mawrtyrs have rallied on Facebook today in response to something posted online by a person who transferred away from Bryn Mawr, a post that denigrated virtually everything about Bryn Mawr (and women’s colleges in general), other than the academics. I am not linking to that post because I do not wish to bring more attention to her words; however, I would like to share a few thoughts about the Mawr.

We have a little saying at Bryn Mawr: “better dead than co-ed.” Not everyone believes in it, of course, and it’s not exactly meant completely seriously, but it is certainly a part of the culture. To me, it’s a statement of our commitment to Bryn Mawr as a women’s college — and while it may seem paradoxical as an alum who doesn’t identify as a woman, I understand where the “better dead than co-ed” sentiment is coming from.

Part of what makes Bryn Mawr wonderful is the dedication to people who have traditionally been, and are currently, discriminated against due to their gender (and/or sex). Sexism and misogyny are still alive and well in our society. Bryn Mawr provides a place where we can learn without battling that on such a constant basis, and Bryn Mawr gives us opportunities to grow stronger. Bryn Mawr reminds us that society has not yet reached a stage where gender is irrelevant.

If Bryn Mawr were “co-ed” in the sense that its mission no longer related to gender, and anyone with the proper application (grades, scores, interview, essays, etc.) could be become a Mawrtyr, BMC would be a very different place. Our Traditions would be different; our dorms, our culture as a whole would all shift drastically. Our sense of self as a community would change. I can’t see our Traditions surviving, not in the forms they now take and not nearly as strong. We would be . . . just another small liberal arts college on the East coast with excellent academics. Bryn Mawr would not be Bryn Mawr if it were no longer a women’s college.

Sure, it’s a little odd for me that so much is made of the “Bryn Mawr woman” because, though I’ll be a proud Mawrtyr all my life, I’m not really a Bryn Mawr woman. Still, I’m proud to count myself among their numbers. We are a quirky bunch, a community of unique, passionate, intelligent, imperfect people. There is a special energy and environment that comes from not being “co-ed” in that original sense.

That is not to say that Bryn Mawr is better than other institutions because of being a women’s college. Both Bryn Mawr and women’s colleges in general are not right for everyone, and Bryn Mawr is far from perfect. (Of course, no college is perfect.) Nevertheless, for me, Bryn Mawr has been phenomenal. Despite everything, I wouldn’t change my decision to go to Bryn Mawr, not for any other academic institution in the world. Being a Mawrtyr has been both a privilege and a pleasure.

7 responses to “Better Dead Than Co-Ed?

  1. It is never a question of “perfect”, merely one of “perfect for”. Bryn Mawr is not “perfect”: there are hundreds of things I’d change, given the chance. But it was perfect for me. At BMC, I learned exactly what I needed to go forth into the world as a strong, confident woman. And that? That’s worth fighting for.
    Anassa kata, buddy. <3
    – Jane

  2. I’m surprised to see a trans person supporting a single gender school. Doesn’t this mean that you would not be able to go to this school for graduate school, for example, now that you are trans?

    • I wouldn’t call Bryn Mawr a “single gender school.” I know a number of people of varying genders who went to Bryn Mawr. And why wouldn’t I be able to go to BMC for graduate school? (Not that I intend to go to graduate school)

  3. Ryan, I’m assuming anonymous thinks that the school would not accept someone who was officially legally identified as a man into their ranks. (hence the statement about graduate school). I dont know anything about Bryn Mawyr’s acceptance policies, but I am curious. Would someone legally and self identified as a man be able to attend the school? I think this brings up some deep questions about sex/gender identity and fluidity and how they are defined in the mainstream-while people of varying gender identities may attend Bryn Mawyr, how does the acceptance policy work as far as legal sex identification goes? I admit I know little about how these policies have adapted to gender/sex fluidity.

  4. I guess the real question here is, 1. does Bryn Mawr accept officially male-identified persons as students (my understanding was that they dont) and 2. how does Bryn Mawr define the term “woman”. If you were labeled female for years and now are male, how would they approach that as far as an application process went? In theory, if they dont accept legally identified men into the school, a legally identified trans-man should not be accepted-and in fact, for them to be accepted would undermine their identity, as the school would be explicitly rejected their claims of man-ness and and instead viewing them as female despite all evidence to the contrary. This is my assumption, anyways. But I think the question just goes to show how the existence of trans people in society brings up some very profound questions about taken for granted gender boundaries. This was an issue in the women’s movement era when a trans-woman was rejected by the women’s rights movement because she lived as a man for years before transitioning. Her life experiences had been that of the dominant gender for many years, and as such, she was not accepted as a “real” woman who understood what it meant to be discriminated against as such. On the other hand, trans people have unique insight into how gendered discrimination works, having been on both sides of the coin. A friend of mine had some good and sad stories about experiences of changed treatment by men before and after FTM transition. Its an interesting question.

  5. Point of information: Bryn Mawr’s graduate programs are co-ed, so regardless of gender identity or undergrad admissions policies, Ryan could theoretically go to grad school at the mawr if he wanted. That doesn’t answer the overarching question, of course, but i thought it should be said.

    Also, i believe the current policy is to not admit legally identified males, but also to not kick out students who transition during their time at bryn mawr. Because people generally apply to the undergraduate program at age 17 or 18, there are few ftm or even mtf students who would be affected by this policy because many don’t fully transition legally before they reach college age.

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