Surviving Integration

As the “woman question” entered the walls of Yale University in the late 1960s, the students displayed mixed sexist reactions. Janet Lover and Pepper Schwartz entered the university at a graduate level, which was an option to women since 1892, in the midst of the coeducational discussion. Other single-sex schools, both male and female, in the northeast were participating in the discussion, many of whom were following through. Yale students called for something to be done because they felt “Yale might be left behind” (Lover and Schwartz 29). The students wanted to lead other schools in allowing women on campus, rather than follow. Yale invited Vassar College to become partners with Yale, but Vassar declined.

In an experiment in 1968 where Yale invited over seven hundred and fifty undergraduate women to visit, the administration received an overwhelming response in support of the women’s presence. The Yale Daily News reported in November 1968 that the women “really brightened this place up” and “the place smells nicer.” One student responded with a humanizing response, suggesting that upon only seeing women on the weekends, “they become things to play with on allotted days” and they “lose sight of the simple fact that girls are people” (34). Aside from the one particular student, most positive responses regarded women as homemakers, facilitators of creating a warm, loving environment. Others were thrilled to have sexual objects within walking distance. Many, however, simply believed women were means to being leaders in the discussion among Yale’s rivals.

Although women experienced sexism and lack of equal opportunities, such as housing limitations and sexual harassment, the students continued to fight back and power through. For many women at newly coeducational institutions, they learned that simply existing at these colleges made a difference. Gina Barreca explained that to survive the patriarchy and sexism at Dartmouth College a woman had to “undermine grim, tight lipped, earnest and inflexible all-male traditionalism by being a tough cookie, but being a wiseguy, by being a feminist” (Barreca 6). To simply exist at these schools challenged systemic sexism. Many women more than just existed, they thrived and fought back. Because of their existence, women are the majority in higher education today.


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