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A co-ed goes coed (Summer 1993)

Most students attending college for the first time find it very different from high school; usually because it is bigger, more competitive, and more diverse. Yale differed from my high school, however, in one other important respect. Where I went to school, there were no males.

For 12 years—first grade through senior year—I attended a small, private, all-girls school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Before my arrival at Yale, I had never shared a coed classroom, let alone a coed bathroom. Not surprisingly, my freshman year entailed some major adjustments.

For the first time, there were males in my classes, in my dorm, in my dining hall. (In high school, boys weren’t allowed in the building until after 3 p.m.) There were even men playing men in school plays. At my school, women took the male roles; when absolutely necessary, a brave (or enterprising) student from a nearby boys’ school would be brought in for the occasion.

My unusual high school experience did make for some awkward, if amusing, moments. “Can you picture yourself married to someone from your high school?” asked a college friend last year. “Not at all,” I answered, entirely truthfully. Another friend was mystified by the apparent normality of my high school social life. “But how did you meet them?” she demanded, as though I’d never seen a member of the opposite sex until I arrived in New Haven. I wasn’t the only one for whom Ivy League coeducation brought changes in the status quo. “I’ve never actually gone out with a smart girl before,” confessed one Yalie I was involved with last year.

After a while, it was as though I’d always gone to school with men. When a senior on my floor took the idea of a coed bathroom to a new level by showering with his girlfriend every morning, I didn’t even blink.

Along the way, of course, I discovered some of the drawbacks of coeducation. In two years of Yale English classes, I have yet to study a female author, and many of the Yale students I know seem unfamiliar with the women writers and scholars who were so much a part of my high school education. I’ve also had to do without its abundance of female role models, of whom there are, regrettably, so few at Yale. At my high school, the august portraits gazing down from the walls were all female; at Yale they are, most conspicuously, all male. The student government, the staff of the newspaper, the sports teams at my school were all made up of women. In a literal and a figurative sense, it had no cheerleaders, only players.

Despite any difficulties I’ve had in adapting to a coed environment, learning with and from my male classmates has been one of the most valuable aspects of my experience at Yale. That fact was brought home to me over spring break, when, while cleaning out my closet, I came upon a dusty cardboard box. Inside I found half-a-dozen dried corsages, remnants of long forgotten high school proms and dances. Looking at the withered orchids and faded roses and breathing in their musty scent, I was struck by how much more relaxed, easy, and unaffected my friendships with men are at Yale—and how unlike the stiff, remote relationships I knew in high school. Living and learning alongside members of the opposite sex has immeasurably enriched my college education.

Perhaps the men of Yale made that same discovery back in 1969.

Annie Murphy Paul ’95 is a sophomore in Berkeley College.

Filed under coeducation, 1990s
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