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September 23, 1987 - Image 53

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-09-23

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C

Studying Womankind
At all-male Wabash, females are the one-week sex

What kind of college would encourage
students to spend more time think-
ing about the opposite sex? Try Wa-
bash, a small liberal-arts institution in
Crawfordsville, Ind., which has an all-male
student body and a group of feisty female
employees. Two years ago women who
worked at Wabash-as professors, admin-
istrators and secretaries-decided the
campus consciousness needed raising.
With the college president's blessing, they
declared Women's Week, a seven-day whirl
of concerts, exhibits, lectures and work-
shops about "women's issues" such as gen-
der identity, careerism and women's
literature.
Repeated last spring, the event seems
certain to become an annual tradition-if
not a universally popular one. Focusing on
females as on rara avis strikes some as
ridiculous: one student greeted the first
celebrants with a sign saying, "How about
Australian Pygmy Week?" Although hos-
tility diminished the second time around,
skepticism remains. "I think you learn
more from experience than from lec-
tures," says junior Joe Pieters, a political-
science major.
The coed experience, however, is not eas-
ily sampled at Wabash: on this campus

even the cheerleaders are male. Founded
in 1832 to prepare young men for the minis-
try or for teaching, Wabash remains one of
only three all-male colleges in the United
States (Hampden-Sydney in Hampden-
Sydney, Va., and The Citadel in Charles-
ton, S.C., are the others). "For the foresee-
able future Wabash will remain single
sex," says president Lewis Salter. "The ar-
guments for changing just don't seem to be
that compelling." Wabash old boys agree.
Says former alumni director Joseph L.
Smith, "The attraction of the members of
the opposite sex just detracts from time for
serious study."
Hometown honeys: Even Wabash's not-so-
old boys go along with that. "You really
don't notice that women aren't around be-
cause you're so busy studying during the
week," says John Hiester, an '86 graduate.
"You go there to get an education; week-
ends are when you go out with the girls."
The "girls" are sometimes hometown
honeys, sometimes imports from nearby
schools such as DePauw, Purdue, Ball State
and Indiana University. "What the heck,
it's only four years," says Pieters. "I figure
I'll have plenty of time for that later on."
Even without women, the school is
flourishing: while some liberal-arts col-

leges worry about declining applications,
Wabash received a bumper crop of 844
for 314 places. Its 800 students tend to
be white and middle class (housing, tui-
tion and fees for one year run about
$11,500); most are politically conserva-
tive. Ninety percent of the student body
participate in varsity or intramural sports
(football is the biggest draw); 75 percent
eventually earn advanced degrees. Most
Wabash men come from Indiana, and
many stay on in Crawfordsville after grad-
uation. A fair number of the town's doc-
tors, lawyers and businessmen are Wa-
bash alums. Says Richard Ristine, the
director of development, "We have one
grand mission-to turn out ever-better
Wabash men."
If that means studying females, so be
it-although one of the most popular
events during the latest Women's Week
turned out to be more about men. Dressed
in fraternity sweat shirts and baseball
caps, a standing-room-only herd listened
as Di Springer (a staff member of the
dean's office) urged them to open up to
their male buddies. "Men don't give each
other affection," she said. "They think of
affection only as sexual and therefore link
it only with women." Said an approving
Salter: "This is Wabash at its best. She
really had them thinking about how we
get trapped into stereotypical roles. I can
imagine some of the guys heaving a sigh of
relief when Women's Week is over, but in
the long run it's good."
NANCY COOPER with TANYA ISCH
in Crawfordsville

SEPTEMBER 1987

NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 37

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