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Why I Am So Grateful for Having Attended a Women's College

Student Perspective - Anna Ehrlich

As a senior, I feel that of all the wonderful resources Barnard has to offer, the experience of a women’s college has been the single-most important component of my education here.  I am not the only one who feels this way.  Barnard has statistics that show that while most incoming students list New York as their top reason for attending Barnard, they graduate citing “a women’s college” as the most significant aspects of their experience.

I came to Barnard despite the fact that it is a women’s college.  I was initially reluctant to attend a women’s college because for several reasons.  I have always enjoyed having guy friends, I’ve never been intimidated being in classes with the opposite gender, and I wanted to date in college.  I am happy to report that I have close guy friends, I have taken classes with men, and dating has been a non-issue!  At the same time, attending a women’s college experience has taught me some invaluable lessons.  I will describe a few experiences I have had to give you a sense of why I am so grateful for having attended a women’s college.

Sitting in my 9 a.m. organic chemistry class, I could not understand why, at such an early hour (for college students), my professor looked so excited.  Professor Merrer, a professor who made the most dreaded pre-med class one of my favorite of my entire college experience, faced all the female students in front of her.  “We did it,” she practically shouted, “the Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to a women for the first time ever!”  Looking around at my classmates, I could feel a swell of pride in the room.  There we were, a group of ambitious women, with our highly accomplished female professor, studying a traditionally male-dominated field, and celebrating the accomplishments of a woman who none of us knew, but all of us felt connected to.   The fact that our professor took the time to acknowledge a women’s achievements so explicitly put me in touch with my own capability.  I am not sure that this same scenario would have played out in a co-ed school, with the same reception from the students.

After three semesters of science labs at Barnard, my schedule worked out such that I took a lab at Columbia.  My Barnard labs were all female and the Columbia lab was about fifty-fifty.  I don’t think of myself as someone who acts differently in the presence of men, but after about two weeks in the Columbia lab, I began to realize that I was asking fewer questions than normal.  Having the opportunity to see myself in a same-gender environment allowed me to compare my behavior in a co-ed environment.  I was surprised to see there was a difference.  The ability to compare, however, allowed me to change.  I started making a conscious effort to speak up equally in my Columbia lab, and soon, I was asking as many questions as always.

I have also found that every class I’ve taken, whether a science course or an English course, is infused with this question of, “Why is this important to women.”  Though an obvious example, this semester I am taking a fabulous class called “Women and Leadership.” A seminar with about 20 students, we speak at length about the historical challenges women have faced professionally, socially, and personally.  The class also provides a forum for discussion about our personal lives.  We often bounce ideas off each other about challenging interactions we had during an club meeting, or job interview.  This gives us a chance to hear the challenges our peers face as women today, and provides a support system in which we can give each other suggestions and support.

Though is hard to capture in just a few examples, the environment at Barnard is filled with a sense of empowerment and pride in being a woman.