If we can have a women’s college, why not … ?

Over at Critical Mass, they’re discussing “diversity” in higher education. Why is it “okay” to have a women’s college but not a white men’s college?

I’ve never quite understood the reasoning behind segregating by gender, race, or anything else in higher education, but I can see how things might have come to that. At one point, a woman’s only option was to attend an institution for women only. Once Harvard started admitting women, Wellesley had three options: shut down, start admitting men, or keep on with the status quo. They decided to go with the latter, and the women kept showing up.

Why would you want to go to such a place today? The party line is that women feel empowered when they’re in a classroom with other women; they are more likely to participate in discussion, and more likely to succeed in life when they’ve been nurtured in an all-female college environment.

I’m not a woman, so I can’t say whether this would actually be true for them. I don’t think it would be true in an all-male classroom. Timid guys are likely to be even more so in an all-male setting. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that men really were more comfortable in such a setting. Would it be okay to have an all-male school, or even an all-white-male school? The argument against this is that it tends to make the “old boy’s network” even more exclusive. But couldn’t this argument be applied to any exclusive group — couldn’t it be applied to any school without open admissions? The school is creating an exclusive network of alumni who continue to use the connections they made in college to “get ahead” in life. Isn’t Harvard just discriminating against “non-Harvard” students, whatever their color or gender?

Human beings are forever sorting themselves into groups: the Punks versus the Metalheads, the Crips versus the Bloods, and yes, Harvard versus Yale. We tend to get angry when we see an “unfair” sorting progress, defined as a “process that harms me.” No one objected when Wellesley wouldn’t admit men, because men didn’t see the harm in it. Ditto for black colleges. If places like Wellesley become more influential, they will see the same pressures to integrate that Harvard did in the 1960s (which resulted in Harvard beginning to admit women in 1970).

Will this be a “bad” thing? Sure it will, for the women who enjoyed their exclusive arrangement at Wellesley. How about for everyone else, though: will it be better or worse for them if single-sex or single-race colleges cease to exist? In the end, I don’t think it will matter much. People will just figure out some new way to sort themselves.

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