All-women’s colleges are not uncommon. Stern College is not unique in that all of its classes contain only female students; schools like Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley and Smith are all well-known colleges whose student bodies comprise only women. But what is unique about the education I currently receive, and have received since first grade, is that I have never been in class with male students.
This is not to say that I have not received excellent schooling; my elementary and high school educations matured me academically, emotionally and spiritually. Though as I sit in my college classes where all my classmates are women, I wonder how having male classmates might have affected my previous education, and might affect the education I am receiving now.
Coeducation in elementary, middle and high school has its pros and cons. I personally benefitted from going to an all-girls high school, partly because I thrived in the relaxed, comfortable environment. I encourage parents and students to consider what is right for them when deciding whether to enroll in a coed or single-sex school.
But now that I am a young adult, at an age where my peers and I are developing unique opinions, outlooks and beliefs, I am starting to believe that coeducation at a college level is something that everyone can benefit from. A Yeshiva College (YC) student recently published an article in The Commentator, YC’s official newspaper, about the benefits of having both male and female perspectives in classes, especially ones that are discussion based. Though having coed classes at Yeshiva University is a concept that will most likely never come to fruition, it is important to recognize that despite this impossibility, it is time to open our minds to the pluses of integration of sexes in an academic setting.
It is impossible to ignore the reality that in Modern Orthodoxy, boys and girls are brought up differently and therefore have different experiences. To say that Jewish young adults all share similar experiences would be correct, but to say that they share the same experiences would be erroneous. Though I have only attended schools where there were only other girls or women in class, summer experiences and extracurricular activities have allowed me to form friendships with young Orthodox males with whom I often engage in discussion about religious and other experiences that are different because of our genders. Having an older brother close in age has also provided me with a chance to exchange ideas and feelings that have to do with a range of topics; these exchanges are especially meaningful because we were raised under the same roof and therefore share many opinions.
My relationships with Orthodox male peers, be they family members, friends or acquaintances, have made me realize that I in fact do have something to gain from a perspective that is similar to mine, but also nuanced in its differences. Therefore, I believe that since now I and my peers are at age where we are passionate about important issues and are eager to participate in debate and discussion, we would all benefit from settings in which both males and females are present to contribute their thoughts.
I have found that my peers, and many people at this era in time, are not only interested in participating in dialogue about big ideas, they are hungry for the chance to do so. Facebook groups exist whose sole purpose is for discussions about Judaism; members ranging from all ages and Jewish backgrounds virtually debate about issues like avoda zara in popular culture, yeshiva day school education and biblical sources for specific halachot. In addition to these threads, the ease of Facebook Messenger has allowed users to reach out to authors of articles or posts in order to ask them questions or debate about certain posts. After publishing a recent article, I was messaged by someone whom I had never met, who had a question regarding a line I had written. It is easier than ever, and I believe this is a good thing, to start discussions with anyone about anything, not only because of social media but also because of an attitude that young Jewish people today seem to have.
This thirst for varying opinions is not limited to a certain sect of Judaism, age, political leaning or gender. For people who are open-minded and strong enough in their own beliefs to hear the other side, the ability to exchange thoughts and ideas with different kinds of people is beneficial in that it allows participants to become nuanced in their thinking.
My generation, or “millennials” as we’re often called, is sometimes criticized for being lazy and for being addicted to technology and social media. Perhaps I only say this because I am one of them, but I believe millennials are not given enough credit for many things: most of all, their willingness to hear new ideas. As always, there are those on both sides of the spectrum who are only comfortable hearing the opinions of those with whom they agree. But for many of those in my age group, we are excited to hear different perspectives from different types of people.
That being said, I think it would be ludicrous to insist that all Jewish young adults must be in environments where their ideas are constantly being challenged; thanks to the coddling, bubble-like nature of many Modern Orthodox communities, a lot of people would not be able to withstand such an environment. Instead, I am advocating for people to be more open to the idea of coeducation at a college level.
College-age young adults, among them my peers, have reached an age at which they are mature enough to generate and express ideas in a serious way. Perhaps I would not encourage every single Jewish high-school student to be educated in a mixed-gender environment partly because of immaturity. But for college students, most of whom I believe are mature enough to handle varying opinions, coeducation is a great place to start in terms of creating heterogeneous environments.
I possess this set of opinions perhaps because of my upbringing in all-girls’ schools and now, an all-women’s college. For young adults who attended coed high schools, or who attend secular colleges, what I am saying is definitely nothing new. But for people in my boat, who have only been exposed to certain opinions in a classroom setting, or who only expose their children to certain opinions, in order to ensure that open-mindedness of our generation is continued, young minds must be stimulated through differing opinions and varied perspectives.
Kira Paley is a sophomore majoring in English at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. She is the founding editor of the popular comedy blog SEMantics, and is currently serving as a campus fellow for ORA, the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot.
By Kira Paley