While scrolling Instagram several nights ago, I saw a post by my alma mater inviting students to attend an event where attendees would make reusable menstrual pads to send to Honduras. A noble pursuit—there’s not a woman this side of puberty who hasn’t experienced the utter mortification of bleeding through her clothes.
Except these pads weren’t destined for women. Saint Mary’s College was inviting students to make pads for economically disadvantaged “menstruating people.”
I was not ignorant of this recent trend to reduce women to their body parts and reproductive functions—see Vogue’s attempt at discussing health care by addressing “people with vaginas”—but it was especially frustrating to see this erasure on behalf of a Catholic women’s college.
Capping off the concern, this event was co-sponsored by the Saint Mary’s Biology and Future Women in Healthcare Clubs. Students who love the biological sciences enough to delight in them outside of the classroom, and aspire to dedicate their careers in service to the human body, are the newest voices denying the obvious reality of male and female.
When I asked if my alma mater was still a women’s college, or if I now needed to refer to Saint Mary’s as a “College for Menstruating People,” the person managing the hosting college center’s Instagram account replied that the language was intentionally used, because “not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women!”
Such a response begs the obvious: What is a woman? To that follow-up question, college staff remained silent.
When a self-professed women’s college can no longer define the word “woman,” there are two futures for single-sex education. Either admission is opened to all who claim to be a woman—meaning you may drop your teenage daughter off at freshman orientation and discover her roommate is sexually aroused by watching her unpack—or they will have to rebrand themselves as a “College for People with Uteruses.”
Somehow, colleges founded to celebrate women’s intellect and creative potential are now reducing them to their anatomy. I can only imagine that the Sisters of the Holy Cross who left their native France in 1843 to start a school for girls on the Indiana frontier are spinning in their graves.
In 19th-century America, women were not admitted to most colleges and universities. Undeterred, advocates of higher education for women—often women themselves—opened their own.
But as co-ed higher education became the mainstream, single-sex education struggled to attract applicants. Colleges such as Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, and Wells opened their doors to men; hundreds more closed altogether. Where there were once more than 300 women’s colleges in the United States, today fewer than 50 remain.
Women are attending college in record numbers, and have for several years outpaced their male counterparts, but only 2 percent of female American undergraduates matriculate at a single-sex institution. The new gender ideology is going to make this statistic even bleaker.
It’s already claimed its first victim. Mills College in Oakland, Calif., opened in 1852 as the first women’s college west of the Rockies. In 2014, it became the first single-sex U.S. college to adopt an admissions policy explicitly welcoming students identifying as transgender (both biological males purporting to be women and biological females purporting to be men) and non-binary.
Three years later, Mills declared a financial emergency, attributed to declining enrollment and revenues. After slashing tuition a whopping 36 percent in a bid to attract more students, Mills announced in March 2021 that it would graduate its last students in 2023.
It was announced three months later that the school would become the sixth satellite campus of Northeastern University in Boston. Meanwhile, the University of California at Berkeley plans to rent dorms and classrooms on the campus.
With the loss of another women’s college, fewer young women will be able to reap the unique benefits of a single-sex education. Graduates of women’s colleges are significantly more likely to earn graduate degrees compared to co-ed counterparts. They are more likely to report themselves “completely satisfied” with the overall quality of their education and more likely than flagship public university graduates to say they felt better prepared for life after college.
Our ranks include 20 percent of the women in Congress and 33 percent of female board members of Fortune 1000 companies. And that’s just what can be quantified. Women’s colleges have famously strong alumnae networks and a loyal sense of sisterhood on campus.
I’m angry at the administration of Saint Mary’s for selling out their heritage as a school founded by brave, determined women committed to teaching younger generations of women to seek out the truth. I’m also deeply heartbroken. I looked forward to the day I might encourage my two daughters to apply to their mom’s alma mater. But I can’t justify paying upwards of $40,000 a year in tuition—or any tuition at all—for my daughters to be instructed to live by lies.