Harvard News 1/30/84–Editorial – COEDUCATION AT HARVARD – PRO
By E. Randol Schoenberg, Editor-in-Chief
One of the touchiest questions of school policy, for administrators, teachers, and students alike, is the question of coeducation vs. unisex schooling at Harvard. The school is deeply divided over this issue, and perhaps that is why it is rarely discussed. The staunchest supporters of the present system are the members of the Board of Trustees. They have blocked attempts at coeducation in the past and seem likely to do so again in the future should a proposal be brought before them. I would like to preface my argument with one statement: although there is no overwhelming reason to have girls at Harvard, there are fewer reasons not to include them.
Many in favor of coeducation point out that Harvard ill-prepares boys for real life situations, restricts their social development, and reinforces the idea that girls do not belong in a rigorous educational setting. These statements are exaggerated, yet somewhat true. The few dances and social events which the school organizes do not provide enough contact with the opposite sex to dispel the belief that girls are strange, threatening creatures. Experience outside of school, whether at religious schools, summer trips, or weekend parties, are accessory. Although most students graduate having had adequate opportunities for intersexual relationships, all admit that girls at Harvard would have had helped tremendously.
Very few, if any, students go to Harvard because it is an all-boys school. In fact, there are probably some prospective students who do not go to Harvard simply because there are no girls. The success of the Brentwood School in attracting these people has raised the academic standing of the school in recent years. Notre Dame is hoping that its new coeducational policy will attract better students, both male and female. Harvard is of a dying breed and it is only a question of how long before the school becomes co-educational. I believe that Harvard will be co-educational by the early 1990’s or the year 2000 at the latest. Of course, this will be too late for most of us.
There are three arguments frequently forwarded by persons against coeducation: one, girls are not as educationally motivated; two, girls would detract from the academic atmosphere at Harvard; and three, Harvard does not have the facilities to accommodate girls.
There is no proof that girls are any different from boys in their intelligence, determination, and diligence. Speculation on the inferiority of females is prejudiced and an unfortunate carry over from the 19th century. To deny girls of an education with boys at Harvard simply because of the nebulous assumption that girls are inferior is unsafe and unwise.
Assuming that girls of equal educational caliber would join the boys at Harvard, a decrease in seriousness would be unlikely. There is no reason why the addition of girls in the classroom would inhibit discussion or in any way disrupt the class. In recent years, females have proven themselves equal to males in many areas. Girls have been admitted to the established private schools, Andover and Exeter, without any noticeable changes in their academic standing.
The topic of the responsibility of admitting girls at Harvard is more difficult to discuss at this point. First, what must be done is to resolve to change. There are many possibilities, including a merger with Westlake or Marlborough. Many people worry that with coeducation, less boys will be offered a Harvard education. This is true—but easily dismissed because obviously, for every boy that is now admitted under the new system, one girl will be admitted and offered the advantages of Harvard School. We must change our priorities from giving male students a fine education to giving students a fine education.
Proposals for coeducation have been brought before the Board of Trustees with much support from the faculty, students, and administration. The majority of the Board has been opposed to this proposal. But as the Board evolves, and as student, faculty, and administrative opinions become more vocal, Harvard’s chances for coeducation increase. It is only a matter of time before Harvard alters its unisex status.