From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[UMNS-ALL-NEWS] UMNS# 555-United Methodist-related woman's college votes to accept men

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Fri, 15 Sep 2006 16:20:14 -0500

United Methodist-related woman's college votes to accept men

Sep. 15, 2006 News media contact: Linda Green * (615) 7425470* Nashville {555}

NOTE: Photographs are available at

By Neill Caldwell*

LYNCHBURG, Va. (UMNS) - After 115 years of being a single-gender institution for women, the board of trustees of Randolph-Macon Women's College has decided to admit men.

The board approved a strategic plan Sept. 9 to make the United Methodist-related college coed in the fall of 2007. A name change is also planned.

The announcement drew mixed reactions from the hundreds of students and alumnae who gathered to hear it - and in some cases, to protest.

"This announcement resonates with both loss and hope, tears and anticipation," said Jolley Christman, president of the board of trustees and 1969 alumna, during the announcement of the vote. The 25-2 decision followed nearly three years of intensive data, research, study, and open dialogue with college constituents.

"(The late) Pearl Buck, perhaps our most well-known alumna, reflected, 'In a mood of faith and hope, my work goes on. A ream of fresh paper lies on my desk waiting for the next book.' Today," Christman said, "we begin to write the next chapter in our history."

According to Virginia Worden, a1969 alumna and interim president of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, "our trustees today are NOT giving up the mission of this college," but "are issuing a call to purpose. Where better than at this college with its dynamic and brilliant faculty, its supportive staff, resourceful students, and phenomenal alumnae - where better, indeed, to find a way to educate women and men, to develop together the strong leaders and citizens who are so needed in our world."

Christman added that the trustees have claimed a future that "invites young men to become a part of our community and join with us as we advocate for gender equality and the life more abundant for people around the world."

The board of trustees will likely vote on a new name for the college at its Oct. 21 meeting. A "naming committee" was formed to make suggestions to the board. The committee has been nicknamed the "Noah's Ark" committee because it contains two members each representing students, faculty, staff, trustees and alumnae.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Randolph-Macon Women's College has long been confused with United Methodist-related Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., which was founded as Randolph-Macon Men's College in 1830. It went co-ed in 1971. Since the women's college's decision, the president of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland reported receipt of angry e-mails about the decision, though Randolph-Macon College has nothing to do with Randolph-Macon Women's College.

The original founder of the college, William Waugh Smith, had a passion for ensuring that "young women may obtain an education equal to that given in our best colleges for young men..." After being rebuffed by the trustees of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., he came to Lynchburg to rally support to build for women "a college of our own."

"Today, 115 years later, it is a different world that has told us that it is time for us to change our course," said Worden. "For whatever the reasons, insufficient numbers of women recognize the golden opportunity that R-MWC holds out."

"Governing decisions are up to the board of trustees of each individual institution," said Wanda Bigham, the staff member at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry responsible for schools, colleges and universities. "I am sure they carefully evaluated the challenges and considered the various options and determined that this was the best direction for Randolph-Macon Woman's College to go."

Turning their backs

About 400 protesters gathered for the announcement, many wearing yellow T-shirts printed with the slogan "Better dead than coed." When Worden told the gathering, "Do not, I implore you, turn your back on this college," members of the crowd abruptly turned their backs on her.

"I'm sad. I'm really sad," said freshman Gabriella Medina, from Puerto Rico. "If we can't reverse this, I guess I'm going to transfer."

Students, alumnae and their supporters opposed the move in online petitions, telephone calls and e-mails to college officials. One alumnae group hired an attorney and is contemplating legal action to block the move.

Enrollment this fall is about 700, down from a student body of nearly 900 in the 1960s. The nation has about 60 women's colleges, down from nearly 300 in the 1960s, according to the coalition.

Three other women's institutions are related to the United Methodist Church: Bennett College for Women, Greensboro, N.C.; Columbia (S.C.) College; and Wesleyan College, Macon, Ga. There are 123 schools, colleges and universities and theological schools related to the denomination in the United States.

Worden said the Randolph-Macon Woman's College has already received its first application from a man and hopes to admit 30 to 35 next fall.

*Caldwell is the editor of the Virginia Advocate, the newspaper of the Virginia Annual Conference. Portions of the story were adapted from wire reports and a release from Randolph-Macon Woman's College.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or


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