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Peace College goes coed

Peace College, a women’s college in Raleigh, North Carolina, made the decision to become coeducational on July 21, 2011.

Mills College made the same decision 20 years ago, but changed its mind after students –supported by faculty, administrative staff and alumnae — went on strike for 16 days.

Mills is the only women’s college that reversed the decision to go coed, and Peace students and alumnae look to the 1990 Mills College Strike as an inspiring example.

Peace College, a North Carolina women's college, will admit men for the first time next year. (Elizabeth Watson)

Peace has about 700 students, but more than 1,000 people organized Facebook petitions, planned protests and made shirts that read, “Preserve the Peace College Legacy.”

Students, however, must have protests approved by the school and the police 24 hours in advance, according to the Speech, Expression and Assembly Policy created by the Peace’s new president, Debra Townsley. When the police were contacted by Elizabeth Watson, a 2007 alum of Peace College, they suggested they knew nothing about the policy.  The police said they weren’t even sure of what was legal and what was illegal in regards to Townsley’s policy.

According to The Board of Trustees at Peace College, the decision to become coeducational will not be reversed. In response to male students being admitted, the Board also changed the College’s name to William Peace University.

In a recent press release, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and Peace alum Beth Cherry spoke out on the decision to change the name.

“Becoming William Peace University reflects our growth as an institution and will deepen and broaden our ability to help our students succeed,” Cherry said. “This will be such a wonderful opportunity for our students.”

Mills students peacefully protested against the 1990 decision to go coed, which was reversed.

Mills’ Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Giulietta Aquino, agrees with Cherry.

“People will know they now have a different mission,” Aquino said. “I believe, though, they will still remain a liberal arts school at the core. I think it will take a few years for Peace College to reimage itself.”

However, some are outraged by Peace College’s name change to William Peace University. An alum of the College posted a photograph on Facebook of her elderly mother, a Peace College alum, beating the new banner with a cane.

Peace officials told Watson the name change was to appeal to more international students. Watson, though, believes the name change is for different reasons.

“In my mind they need to change the name to appeal to men, not international students,” Watson said.

In addition to the name being changed, only some classes will be coeducational while others will remain single sex. Select single-gender courses in targeted disciplines where research shows that women and men learn differently and that each benefit from a single-gender classroom, according to an official announcement quoted by Inside Higher Ed.

Title IX for the Education Amendments of 1972 is something legal experts are worried about pertaining to Peace, Inside High Ed reported.  Title IX states that classroom discrimination based on gender is illegal in higher education institutions that receive federal funding.

Townsley said she sees no legal problems with offering separate selections for men and women in some areas.

“All classes are always accessible to all students, but we focus on learning style,” Townsley said.

Todd Robinson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Peace College, also stands behind the decision to change Peace College to coeducational.

“We had an operating model that could not be sustained economically without significant modification,” said Robinson in his statement about why Peace College shifted to coeducational.

The change he refers to is allowing men to enroll as students at the newly renamed college. He said that opening the doors to men will not only bring males into the school, but also females who may not have wanted to attend an all women’s college.

Peace College’s enrollment has remained the same in recent years. The small school has only about 642 full-time students, the same amount it had a decade ago. About five years ago, in order to save the school, Peace College’s Board of Trustees projected the school needed at least 850 full-time enrolled students by Fall 2011 to continue to be an all women’s institution.

According to Robinson’s research, only 17 percent of students will consider a private university over a public one because of tuition costs. Robinson also found that about 2 percent of women will even consider a women’s college.

“It always saddens me when I hear of the death of a women’s college,” said Aquino, who has been employed by three women’s colleges in the United States, including Mills. “I am a strong advocate for women’s education.”

Robinson’s research showed, in 1950, there were 203 women’s schools in the United States. Last year, there were only 46, which means that three out of every four women’s colleges have closed, merged or become coeducational in the last 60 years.

In the past 20 years, Mills enrollment has risen by almost 200 undergraduate students and the percentage of men in the graduate program has remained at 21 percent since 1990.

“Mills is stronger now more than ever,” Aquino said. “It is definitely in a much stronger position than it was back then.”

Representatives for William Peace University believe the College will benefit and also become stronger from having men enrolled. It is important to the Board of Trustees that enrollment increases because some alumnae are no longer providing donations to the school due to the changes.

Betsy Boddie, a longtime donor for Peace College, told the News and Observer in North Carolina, that she will not give any money in the future now that Peace College is coeducational and renamed. She and her family will continue to try to reverse the decision.

“We are going to try everything that we possibly can to get the college back,” said Boddie. “They did away with what we know as Peace College.”