Thursday, September 3, 2015

It Hurts and We're Trying: Can That Be Enough?

As many of you probably know or have experienced, Chatham University, my school and soon to be alma mater, made the decision to go coeducational in Spring of 2014. After a year of preparation, on August 26th, move in began, and we welcomed the largest class of first years in a long time. They're great! They're smiling and engaging and full of excitement for what the next four years will bring...I am energized and inspired by interacting with them. And yet, they remind me of another eighteen year old I used to know...

When I came to Chatham, largely because of my scholarship at first, I didn't know what to expect and despite what I thought, I didn't really know who I was. I stumbled a lot throughout my first year, went through a lot of the stereotypical terrifying things that they warn you about going to college. I remember sitting in a really awful environmental science class next to the woman who would become my best friend. I didn't know her very well at the time, I just knew that we had the same sarcastic sense of humor, and we both hated the class. Feeling lost and missing my friends from home, I confided in her what was weighing me down. Instead of reacting with judgement, like I was afraid she would, she listened intently and squeezed my hand. She gave really good advice and reminded me, because I had certainly forgotten, that I was a strong woman, and no one could take that away from me, no matter what happened. Even though it is one anecdote, it is one of the most important from my time at Chatham, and even though its so simple, in that moment, her encouragement defined for me the importance of Chatham College for Women.

Now...nearly three years later, Phoebe and I are both graduating in December. We have one last semester. One last semester at the place where I learned how to be a woman, a feminist, a writer, a scientist, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, and an independent, self-sustaining human being. One last semester with Dean Waite, Dr. Bruckner, Dr. Kingsbury, Heather Black, Chief, Kitty, and all of the other amazing people and cats behind the scenes, making things happen. One last semester of giggles, wine, late study nights, and ripping my hair out over tutorial. One last semester of Anderson's vendetta against vegans. One last semester leaning on my sisters and letting them lean on me. One last semester with my Mooncats. One last semester at my home. And even though it is so intensely exciting, there is a tiny (not that tiny) part of me that is devastated.

You can't deny, if you knew it before, that something feels different in the air at Chatham University. People keep blaming the pheromones...but trust me, this school has never been lacking sexual energy. I really think there is a loss, a mourning weighing down on the women who've returned, the women who've left, and those who will still be here when the dust of this massive transition has settled. It scares me to think that three years from now, every student who attends Chatham will know it as a coeducational institutional only. Maybe that won't make a difference to them...but now, as we rapidly approach the bridge between students and alumnae, I worry that it will make a difference to me. You know, its hard to explain really, what it feels like, what we've lost...

In the basement of Rea house, there is a space called Rea Coffeehouse. It is a space that's used pretty frequently for open mic nights and performances, all great events that should be checked out. But on occasion, when it is empty, we sneak our way in and turn the lights on and bask in all of the history packed into those walls. The walls are colored with graffiti, the words of our sisters, passed down from class to class, our special secret. When we showed the new students the place on a behind the scenes tour of Chatham, several of the men told me they felt scared or uncomfortable down there. And I realized pretty suddenly, what was going on...this was and is their space, the women of Chatham. It is a sacred female space. It is impossible not to walk down there and not feel the energy vibrating your very being. The words scrawled across the walls make me laugh, cry, and feel things that belong to that space, to Chatham exclusively. And yeah... I guess if you didn't get it, what it meant, who it belonged to, the secrets and treasures it holds in its heart, it would be scary. Scrawled across what looks like an old church pew are the words, "This is a place where wymyn have been finding themselves for 121 years...can you feel it?" And yes, in every inch of your being, you can feel it.

I guess my heart aches for what was, and as we catapult into this new beginning, all I can hope is that every student who trips, stumbles, or dives headfirst into Chatham, is awakened in the same way I was. Maybe if you didn't live through it, you'll never understand what I'm talking about...and that's okay. There are a lot of things I will never understand, but I'll always try. All I ask for, from anyone who is willing to give it, is for a little patience and goodwill. Today, my boss listened to us try to express our grief and at the end she told us that our sadness was okay, that we were allowed to feel sad, we had lost something important to us. And that statement, that validation, was what I needed. It hurts but we're trying, and I hope, for now, that can be enough.

I'd just like to say one more thing...

As Meg and I wrapped up the viewing of Rea Coffeehouse, Meg remembering the last time she had been there and how different it was and me trying to grasp how anyone could be afraid of this amazing place, I noticed one of the first year men reading a wall. I told him we were getting ready to leave and he looked at me with huge eyes and said, "This place is absolutely amazing..."

And so, hope finds us.

1 comment:

  1. Recalitrant closed-minded reactionary feminazis stuck in the past!