The fallout from Brett Kavanaugh’s ’87 LAW ’90 Supreme Court confirmation process has shone a spotlight on his alma mater, Georgetown Preparatory School, a Catholic all-boys high school. With that, it has also brought into question the broader limitations of single-gender education and single-gender organizations on campus.
I attended an all-boys school for 14 years — my sisters attend all-girls schools. These environments are continually painted as “elitist, privileged and entitled.” There is no denying the elite and privileged attributes of many of these schools. However, while single-gender organizations and schools in their current iterations aren’t as positive as they should be — as seen with fraternities like Delta Kappa Epsilon — I believe that they can still serve a positive purpose if reformed and done correctly.
In 1969, less than 50 years ago, the Yale Corporation voted to make Yale College coeducational. Since then, Yale has come a long way: The Class of 2022 is the most socioeconomically diverse class in Yale’s history, with a 1-to-1 male to female ratio. Alongside that, both students and University alike continue to discuss how we can improve gender inclusivity and sexual safety on campus. I think that single-gender institutions, instead of going extinct, can play an important role in this process.
Many argue that single-gender environments should be phased out. They posit that organizations like these reinforce sexual inequality and are ill-equipped to handle nonbinary students, among other arguments. While these hold merit for a large portion of single-gender environments, these issues are largely a result of poor implementation rather than single-gender environments themselves. Many people have strong opinions regarding the existence of single-gender institutions. However, I think we can all agree that these institutions aren’t going to disappear in the near future — and, in my case, I don’t believe they should. In that case, positive reform and criticism can allow many of these environments to serve their original purpose in creating a unique and powerful sense of community among their members.
For example, single-gender schools frequently liberate young men and women from the social pressure to fit into their assigned gender stereotypes early on. They can freely pursue their passions, regardless of how they fit into societal expectations. These environments help foster all-boys theatre productions and all-girls ice hockey teams, boys in the humanities and girls in STEM. During a student’s adolescent years, environments like these lessen the urge to impress the other gender by conforming to gender norms. All this helps break down “the antiquated, sexist notions of men’s versus women’s roles in society” that groups like Engender fight to erase. Single-gender schools recognize their limitations, implementing coeducational seminars that educate students in human relationships. My high school, for example, held a “Human Relationships” course, where young men and women explored human relationships together, from gender to sex and race relations.
The recent crackdown on “bro culture,” especially in locker rooms and fraternities, is more than necessary. Sexual degradation and assault needs to be addressed. In that conversation, I believe that single-gender environments, positive notions of brotherhood and sisterhood, and human relationship initiatives can shift us toward greater gender equality.
Single-gender organizations are admittedly imperfect. They face inherent disadvantages in including nonbinary students and fostering socioeconomic diversity, to say the least. However, many of them are trying to change. The Haverford School, for example, readily embraces its first transgender alumna Jennifer Boylan, whose memoirs are read in upper-level English classes. This, in my opinion, is the model that single-gender organizations should strive for.
Why does all of this matter to Yalies? From DKE rape allegations to “locker room talk,” single-gender organizations in their current form can and should improve. They can still be positive spaces on campus, and, if done correctly, can foster important conversations on “human relationships.” In our society today, there are many issues that affect solely men or solely women. While it is always important to have conversations that include everyone, it is also helpful to have a place where you can talk candidly and openly about issues that you’re dealing with. For men, this could be fighting against masculine stereotypes — for women, this could be the high cost of menstrual supplies and access to them. Brotherhood and sisterhood may seem antiquated and do have problems that need to be grappled with. However, the positive social good that they do and are uniquely equipped to handle are important to keep in sight. Single-gender organizations and education belong in our future.
Samuel Turner is a first year in Trumbull College. Contact him at email@example.com .