Sisters with a Shared Mission

from Marissa Turchi


From left to right: Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Wellesley representatives enjoy dinner together.

As I head back to the west coast for my second trip of this travel season, I found myself reminiscing about my last trip here. Earlier this fall, directors, deans, and vice presidents from the Sister Colleges (Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley) traveled together to three cities on the west coast to talk about the benefit of studying at a women’s college with prospective students, families, and counselors.

During that trip, I had many moments of looking around and thinking, “How lucky am I? This is my job?!” I got to travel in the company of amazing and powerful women. I met incredibly talented young scholars and heard their stories of advocacy, action, and legacy. Not a day went by when I didn’t experience a wow moment.

To quote one of my Sister colleagues, “Women’s colleges aren’t about the absence of men; they’re about the presence of women.” That really resonated with me throughout the trip. I know so much about the success of Bryn Mawr students, but it was refreshing and empowering to hear how the narratives we tell about our students are shared by other women’s colleges.

In fact, we all share some amazing “firsts.” The first woman to be appointed to a Presidential Cabinet; the first women to hold a US Ambassadorship in the UN; the first female neurosurgeon; and the first AND ONLY female president of Harvard University (go Bryn Mawr!). Women’s college graduates are clearly pioneers in their fields, bound by no limits.

What’s the secret to our success? At women’s colleges, female leadership is the norm, not the exception. In fact, the Sister Colleges were developing women leaders long before many people and societies thought women even held the capacity for leadership. Today, we are one of the world’s most powerful networks for professional women – yes, in the world. One of the great benefits of graduating from a women’s college is that in addition to joining your college alumni network, you also join the greater network of women’s college graduates. We are all so proud to be women’s colleges, to empower smart and strong women who graduate to be global leaders.

I can go on for many more paragraphs detailing what it feels like to be part of a women’s college community, but, as scholars, we like our data too. During our travels, we shared some research findings from the Hardwick-Day What Matters After College: A Comparative Alumnae Research Study and women’s college graduates are:

• More likely than graduates from co-ed institutions to attend graduate school – double the rate of public flagships and 40% higher than co-ed liberal arts colleges.
• Less likely than public university graduates to transfer from another college or university.
• More likely than flagship public university graduates to be involved in volunteer or community service activities.

But most importantly to me, women’s colleges receive higher effectiveness ratings than all other colleges and universities for helping students learn to be a leader.

Our institutions were founded in a time when women were denied access at the most prestigious institutions in the country. Our founders believed women to be just as engaged and scholarly as their male counterparts. We continue in this history and legacy – our students find commonality in their shared passion for learning. They are academic risk-takers who are not afraid of going against the grain and celebrate the opportunity to be in an academically rigorous community. They are not afraid to voice their opinions and make themselves heard.

I cherished my time traveling with the other Sister Colleges. We shared meals, stories, laughs, and mentorship. I finished that week a little bleary eyed from all the planes, shuttles, and hotel jumping, but my soul was filled with inspiration from traveling with four fantastic women – hearing stories of generations of women who have influenced one another to be bold, fearless, and change agents. We met incredible students who are already pioneers in their communities, creating their own legacies.

I encourage you to explore the idea of attending a women’s college. Do your research, visit campuses, connect with faculty and staff, engage with current students. You will find the same inspiration and empowerment I have. And, if you’re still on the fence, take some advice from our President, Kim Cassidy, on why every female student should visit a women’s college.

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