Sisters offer reaction to college’s co-ed announcement
Citing a desire to be firmly “Rooted for Tomorrow,” representatives of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) announced a decision on May 19 that changed the future of the institution.
The college’s board of trustees unanimously voted for the college to become fully co-educational during its May 1, 2015, meeting.
Beginning in the fall of 2015, men will be able to apply to the college in a commuter capacity and by the fall of 2016, they will be able to live on campus.
SMWC President Dr. Dottie King said the decision was not taken lightly. She said the board had discussed it for the better part of a year.
“We’re about to move forward in a new way,” she said.
During the May 19 press conference, King offered several eye-opening statistics. For example, she said that across the nation, women’s colleges that made this decision had experienced an increase in enrollment of women.
She added that in 1960, there were 230 women’s colleges in the United States. However, only 55 years later, 52 of those have closed, 22 have merged with other colleges or universities, and 39 have become co-educational. King also said 34 of the approximate 45 remaining women’s colleges admit men to select undergraduate and graduate programs.
King said that according to statistics, less than 2 percent of college-aged women will consider attending a single gender college or university.
“We cannot be relevant to all women when 98 percent of women will not consider us,” King said. “No one doubts the power of the single gender educational experience.
However, the number of women who will perceive such a choice hinders its relevance in today’s world.”
Sister Ellen Cunningham, a graduate who was a faculty member at the college for 40 years and currently volunteers in the advancement office, said initially, she was surprised by the announcement.
“I was sad, of course, and angry,” Sister Ellen said. “It was kind of a shock.”
However, after reading information provided by King from “beginning to end,” she felt more at ease with the decision.
“It just made so much sense,” Sister Ellen said. “I appreciate that Dottie and the trustees have determined to not just survive, but thrive.
“I really do trust Dottie and the trustees. I think that she is very much in tune with Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. And the trustees I know, I can say the same.”
Sister Marie Grace Molloy, who also graduated from the college, said she believed the decision will help the college in the long run.
“I think it’s great,” Sister Marie Grace said. “And it was necessary to do this. I knew it was going to come sometime. I just think it was time.”
Sister Rebecca Keller did not attend the college. She, too, was surprised by the decision, but agreed with Sister Marie Grace.
“As a Sister of Providence, I think it’s a great idea,” Sister Rebecca said. “For me, it’s more realistic coming to the college because women will be in the workforce with men.”
Men have been accepted into the school’s graduate programs since 1984, and men were granted acceptance into the college’s undergraduate distance program beginning in 2005.
Board member Randy Adams echoed King’s sentiments.
“This is a great institution,” Adams said. “And this was a multi-year process for our board of trustees.”
Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, said the General Council supported the college’s decision.
“We’re used to change,” Sister Denise said. “And we love the college so much. This is a decision that is rooted for tomorrow.”
Saint Mother Theodore Guerin established SMWC shortly after arriving in the United States. The Academy – as it was known – officially opened its doors on July 4, 1841.
Until the May 19 statement, SMWC was the oldest women’s college in the United States.
“May God continue to bless Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and the Sisters of Providence,” Adams added.