The College reflects on 40 coed years
By Noah Reichblum, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, September 13, 2012
In the fall of 1972, the College enrolled 200 full-time female students, making Dartmouth one of the last Ivy League schools to become coeducational. Forty years after initial opposition, campus culture has changed as a result of increased student body parity, female athletic teams’ success and other support systems, while enduring aspects of the College still remain, according to students, alumni and trustees interviewed by The Dartmouth.
The majority of the commemorative events marking the 40th anniversary of coeducation are still in the planning stages, and more details will be released within the next several weeks, according to Director of Media Relations for the College Justin Anderson.
The tumultuous nature of the period of integration is often overlooked, according to theater professor Peter Hackett ’75.
“There was behavior that we now look back on that is incredibly unacceptable and which was happening with regularity,” Hackett said.
Despite the fact that the initial female students, attending a school of roughly 3,200 undergraduates, encountered various forms of harassment, the experience was also exciting, according to Susan Dentzer ’77, the first female chair of the Board of Trustees.
“For the women in the class ahead of me, the ’76 class, and in my class of ’77, it was an exhilarating moment,” she said. “You felt like a pioneer, and in many instances you were.”
In addition to facing social adversities, female students’ high academic performance also threatened male students, according to Hackett.
“Because the number of women who applied was so high, the quality of students was academically extraordinary,” Hackett said. “So that also contributed to some of the pressure, because some guys felt threatened by the fact that there were women here.”
Combined with parity in enrollment, once all students on campus had applied knowing they would be attending a coeducational school, the campus culture for women began to improve, according to Dentzer.
“The makeup of the place really changed,” Dentzer said. “It was discernible and palpable to those of us who were there.”
The emergence and success of women’s sports teams were also critical to ensuring equity on campus, according to Hackett.
“Seeing men and women learning together, whether that happens on an athletic team or in a play, didn’t exist when I was a student,” Hackett said. “The world doesn’t exist as a single-sex environment any more.”
Over the years, other women’s support groups and programs were created, such as the Center for Women and Gender in 1988. As a result, Dartmouth came to provide support for specific groups like women of color, according to Hannah Giorgis ’13, president of the Women of Color Collective and an intern at the CWG.
The Office of the President has begun to organize events to commemorate the 40th anniversary of coeducation, as well as 40 years of black alumni of Dartmouth, 40 years of the Native American studies program and 50 years of coeducation at the Geisel School of Medicine, according to Anderson.
“This is a big year for Dartmouth,” Anderson said in an email to The Dartmouth. “President Folt is excited to be celebrating multiple community milestones over the coming year.”
While some aspects of Dartmouth have changed, the College’s strength as an academic institution has remained consistent over time, according to Dentzer.
“The undergraduate experience is central to the Dartmouth experience,” Dentzer, whose son is a member of the Class of 2016, said. “Joining a community of learners and scholars and having very close contact with faculty and vibrant extracurricular experiences — those are common threads of my Dartmouth experience and my son’s Dartmouth experience.”
Georgis also emphasized the continued need for communication between the administration and students to ensure that female students and students of color feel comfortable on campus.
The Office of Alumni Relations will host a leadership forum in March 2013, although the details are still being confirmed, according to Anderson.
Talene Monahon ’13 is creating a one-woman theater piece about gender relations and social scenes, which will be incorporated into the 40th anniversary events. The script will be adapted from interviews with Dartmouth community members, she said. Monahan’s production will be showcased in the Bentley Theater in the spring.
Hackett noted the importance of the 40th anniversary of coeducation for the College’s history and community.
“It was really about changing the culture on campus in ways that I think nobody anticipated,” he said.