The Collegian
Sunday, August 09, 2020

'Separate, but equal' in sex and gender?

"The Feminine Mystique," the novel that launched a generation of feminists, was published 50 years ago last week.

In those five decades, the progress of women's rights has lurched and receded, but equality of the sexes for men, women and transgenders is still certainly absent in much of this country, including at the University of Richmond.

With much fanfare, the sorority cottages opened last semester. These facilities finally promised space for Richmond's sororities, as opposed to its fraternities, which have had lodges since the 1950s.

But for reasons never explained, these cottages were made much smaller than the lodges. Thus sororities remain at a disadvantage; some cannot even fit all of their members into a cottage at once, much less hold parties or other large events.

The privilege to host parties remains with the fraternities, and women must travel to those lodges to drink and dance. This unequal arrangement places the power with the fraternity brothers, and in the presence of alcohol, could increase the risk of sexual assault.

A sorority wishing to host a party must use a smaller apartment or find someplace off-campus. Alhough it may be a benign topic, hosting weekend parties should not be a right afforded only to male Greek organizations.

The coordinate college system is lauded by Richmond's website as a system to "foster academic and personal development." But, as one Collegian contributor intelligently noted last week, this is an unrealistic and complicated arrangement.

There are two leadership boards, two deaneries and two staffs divided, not usefully by specialization, but arbitrarily by gender. The student leaders elected within the Richmond and Westhampton college government associations need only to appeal to men or women respectively, and gain no experience in connecting with the other 50 percent of the human population.

The sexism of the coordinate college system is not its treatment of women, but instead its forcing students to identify as one of the two traditional genders. Every undergraduate student must start out as a Richmond or Westhampton college student, thus leaving transgender students with no place to turn.

To look at it crudely, if the coordinate college system were as amazing as Richmond claims, then why do only two schools in America use it?

"Separate, but equal" is a risky practice in education, and the vast majority of American universities have logically decided to avoid any chance of discrimination by being fully coeducational. Why won't this university move into the 21st century?

Between these two instances of sexism at this school, only the latter has generated significant debate. To shed once and for all its image as an elitist and hidebound college, the Richmond must end inequality in its treatment of every sex and gender.

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