Women's College To Go Coed, Keep Offering Single-Sex Courses

Currently all-female Peace College has decided to admit men, but they're going about it in an unusual way — they'll be keeping some classes gender-segregated, ostensibly to accommodate male and female "learning styles."

On the face of it, Peace's plan makes a certain amount of sense. Inside Higher Ed notes that students at other women's colleges have resisted attempts to admit men (Mills College students once protested that they were "better dead than coed"), and keeping single-gender classes could be a way to preserve the environment Peace is known for. And students will apparently be able to choose either single-gender or coed versions of their courses. However, the approach is already sparking criticism. For starters, it may be illegal — under Title IX, colleges are allowed to admit only women, but segregating individual classes within a coed school is prohibited under most circumstances.

The plan also raises ideological questions. Peace president Debra Townsley says "All classes are always accessible to all students, but we focus on learning style," meaning that classes will be tailored to "male learning styles," "female learning styles," or a mix. But it's by no means proven that such gendered learning styles even exist. Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women's Law Center tells Inside Higher Ed,

The problem is at the root of the description. The presumption that there is one male learning style and one female learning style is a stereotype in itself that has been disproven. There is more variance among women than there is between men and women.

Proponents support single-gender education for a variety of reasons — giving women the chance to speak up without having to worry about stigma from men is an example — but the idea of separate female and male learning styles is one of the least compelling. If Peace's new plan is based on such faulty reasoning, it's unlikely to get very far.

Separate But Equal? [Inside Higher Ed]

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