This week is “Why a Women’s College” Week, and we’re featuring a post a day from different perspectives on the value of an inclusive women’s college education. Today, Director of Enrollment Marketing Kati Burns Mallows explains why she chose a Women’s College.
The standing banner was the focal point of the table, towering above the crowd of high school students who kept passing it by without hardly a second glance, but it was the only thing I had eyes for. The banner featured the image of a young woman on horseback, in full Huntseat attire, her horse rearing up and seemingly off of the material as they sailed over a tall fence.
It was the fall of my senior year of high school, and I knew I wanted to go to college but, without much active support from home as a first-generation college student, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Having had a small obsession with horses for the majority of my childhood, I surmised I should probably stick with what I knew.
So, on that fall day, at an overwhelming college fair in Gadsden with my classmates, I approached the table with the horse for no other reason than the fact that there was a horse.
The lady behind the table had a kind face and a welcoming smile. She greeted me warmly and asked informal questions about who I was and who I wanted to become; this unusual, personal focus would come to be a familiar characteristic of my future experiences with women’s colleges.
Over the course of the next few months, my counselor, Julie, built a relationship with me. She paid a visit to my family home twice and put together a meet-and-greet dinner for me and other would-be future college students from my area. By the time of my first visit to campus, where complete strangers greeted me with smiles as we passed on the sidewalks, I was all but convinced I had found my home-away-from-home for the next four years.
My undergraduate college experience was filled with academic challenge, newfound forever friends, mentors and opportunities for growth in ways I never could have imagined… and I didn’t ride a single horse while there. Turns out equestrian team members are just as hardcore as the typical athlete, no hobbyists allowed!
As a student, I stumbled into a women’s college education by accident, but as a working adult for the last 15 years, my reasons for holding careers at two separate women’s colleges at different times have been nothing if not intentional.
It is hard to live in a space where women’s voices are uplifted – where they are empowered daily to be who they want to be no matter the environment they might find themselves in, where mutual respect and comfort go hand-in-hand, and leadership roles are filled by women – and not desire to continue being a part of such a special atmosphere long after graduation.
I won’t speak to the hard and fast facts of the benefits of attending a women’s college as you have probably heard in detail already from my colleagues, students, alumnae and friends of Agnes Scott College this month as we have celebrated Women’s History Month.
I won’t speak too much on the relevancy of women’s colleges to our current times because if you think about it yourself, I know you can come up with many reasons why women’s colleges are still necessary for shaping and empowering young female minds. So long as women still lag behind men in the workplace in management positions (for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women are promoted – a number significantly lower for women of color); So long as women still earn less than men (currently 80 cents on the dollar); so long as we live in a world where more than 8 in 10 women experience workplace sexual harassment or assault in their lifetimes – there is still a need for women’s colleges.
Instead, I’m going to talk to you about two things that consistently make an appearance on any women’s college campus, from the perspective of someone who has attended one women’s college and worked for others.
- Community Through Acceptance
No matter what women’s college campus you step foot on, a major commonality among them all is the overwhelming sense of community, belonging and welcome you will find. Not just a face among a sea of other faces all hurrying to various locations in between classes, on a women’s college campus you are already somebody before you become somebody – you are a potential new sibling, ally, friend, scholar and social justice warrior on the cusp of being ready to join a network of other like-minded women plotting their paths to purpose and trailblazing a way for those who’ll come after them. Community is one of the largest draws to a women’s college education.
On every women’s college campus, you’ll find many mainstay locations where community gather, but one of my favorites is the campus dining hall. The dining hall, no matter the campus or the point in your life at which you return, is a pillar of familiar smells, antics, heart-felt conversation and memorable events. There’s always that one member of the kitchen staff who is the beloved baker of cookies, pies, cakes and mysterious deliciousness only your grandmother is supposed to know how to create. There aren’t assigned tables but various friend groups will likely claim their favorites and serious conversations will ensue over plates piled high for Fried Chicken Wednesday. I spent four years avoiding my college’s dining hall on August 4 every year (my birthday) for fear of having to “perform” during my birthday serenade – a tradition where seniors gathered ‘round your table, sang “Happy Birthday” to you (aww!), but then flipped to chants and clapping to “round the table you must go” where you were expected (whether in professional dress, your Sunday best or barely your pajamas) to run ‘round the table as fast as possible.
The Agnes Scott College campus is renown as a place of welcome, inclusivity and charm. Our vast network of over 14,000 alumnae can be recognized world over by their black onyx rings, which they receive during their sophomore year, a campus tradition I will let you learn about here, and this binds them as siblings through the generations.
2. Professional Purpose Through Carefully Crafted Experiences
Women’s college campuses are similar in curriculum in that they typically place heavy focus on development of the “whole person” through a combination of in-class, lab or hands-on learning techniques and strong mentorship models that often lead their students to learn how to create their own definition of what leadership looks like, to describe their college experience as transformative and to go on to lead lives of professional purpose in careers that mean something to them. The difference with Agnes Scott College is SUMMIT, a unique experience that also places special emphasis through real experiences on inclusive leadership development, global learning and specific career readiness initiatives. A strong mentorship model comprised of major and peer advisors, career coaches and a network of over 450 successful alumnae helps to build foundational relationships that guide you throughout your future career, while early career support services extend two years beyond graduation.
My foundational experience throughout college included strong mentorship from a faculty member; he was essential in finding me meaningful, real-world work experience while in college (I had 3 journalism internships) and as a job reference on my resume after college – at least two of my first jobs were a result of his glowing recommendation.
Attending a women’s college with a proven innovative 21st Century liberal arts foundation is a recipe for success.
Beyond the glimpses of happy horses mingling in the nearby pasture, these are some of the things that made my own women’s college experiences more meaningful. As your college search is winding down – or maybe just beginning – I would implore you to consider all the benefits of attending a women’s college, in particular an inclusive women’s college such as Agnes Scott College, and how the mission of the institution fits into the kind of woman and leader you desire to become.
And from there, don’t be afraid to follow your gut, even if it means letting a horse be your guide.