How Will We Look at Ourselves in the Mirror Afterward?
On March 5, 2014, the first of two town halls was held for alumnae on the Chatham University campus. After an explanation by Dr. Esther Barazzone of the reasonsing behind the current co-educational proposal before the Chatham Board of Trustees, there was an open mic session for alumnae or current students to speak to the present Board members and Chatham administration. Sarah Ford, an alumna from the Class of 2008, stood up and presented a heartfelt speech that received rousing cheers from the crowd in the auditorium, as well as those watching the town hall via webcast. Parts of the speech were also picked up by local press. This is that statement in its entirety.
My name is Sarah Ford. I graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. I feel like I’ve been here before though. How many times have we alumnae butted heads with the administration and board of trustees over the direction of our beloved women’s college?
You’ve asked us to provide you solutions so here are two of my suggestions:
The first major suggestion I have is to increase outreach to local high school students. Other women’s colleges have high school outreach programs that increase their visibility locally while also giving young women a taste of the empowerment that comes from attending a women’s college. I went to the now defunct Langley High School in the Sheraden neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It is less than ten miles away from this campus. I’d never even heard of Chatham until my high school guidance counselor started including information about Chatham in our regular meetings. There must be more that we can do not just locally but throughout the country to reach out to young women that are looking for a unique educational experience. As a high school student I spent time on both the CMU and University of Pittsburgh campuses through their young women in science programs. Why not explore something similar at Chatham? As a women’s institution that encourages women to go into STEM programs, why not start that outreach while these young women are looking at colleges?
The second major suggestion I would have is to involve the alumnae more. Over the past weeks my conversations with alumnae have brought an alarming trend to my eyes. Though we aren’t all able to contribute financially to Chatham a lot of us have offered our time. We’ve offered to help in Admissions, we’ve offered to help with accepted student day, we’ve offered to help in any way we can. Largely we’ve been ignored. We send emails and make phone calls just to get no response from Chatham. That is infuriating to me! You have an army of smart, capable, enthusiastic women of all ages, races and economic backgrounds that are willing to go to bat for you and you woefully underutilize them. Studies have shown that involving alumnae is a valuable recruiting technique, especially for women’s colleges. Instead of increasing our involvement as enrollment has gone down, you’ve isolated us from not just prospective students but current students as well.
Let me wrap up with one other personal anecdote, in high school I was part of the 98%. There was no way I was ever going to a women’s college. My guidance counselor pushed me and convinced me to go on a campus visit. I was in love with Chatham’s campus from the first minute I set foot there. I applied and was still conflicted between choosing Chatham and choosing the University of Pittsburgh. My guidance counselor told me that one of these would be the easy choice and one of them would be the right choice. I believe I made the right choice.
So I ask you today to think about the situation we’re in. Going co-ed or staying single sex, one of these is the easy choice and one of these is the right choice. Now isn’t the time to throw away 145 years of empowering women all for a temporary patch on a larger problem. I know economic issues are one of the major factors at heart of this decision. Times are hard, we all know that. Most of us are struggling to make ends meet. However, going coed is the university equivalent of selling your body. It will relieve the immediate financial pressures but how will we look at ourselves in the mirror afterward? I ask that you look within, roll the hard six, and put in the work to keep Chatham a women’s college. Make the right choice not the easy one.