Contradictions in Women's Education: Traditionalism, Careerism, and Community at a Single-Sex College (review)
- Journal of College Student Development
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 45, Number 1, January/February 2004
- pp. 103-105
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Journal of College Student Development 45.1 (2004) 103-105
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Contradictions in Women's Education: Traditionalism, Careerism, and Community at a Single-Sex College. Barbara J. Bank with Harriet M. Yelon. New York: Teachers College Press, 2003, 198 pages, $27.95 (softcover), $60.00 (hardcover)
In Contradictions in Women's Education, sociologist and women's studies professor Barbara J. Bank makes a substantive contribution to the literature on the culture and impact of single-sex colleges on the women who attend them. The book is a well written, comprehensive report of a longitudinal study that followed a cohort of students from their matriculation at Central Women's College (a pseudonym) through their graduation year. Bank writes from outside the field of student affairs yet grounds her study and its findings firmly in the literature on student involvement, development, and outcomes, making Contradictions in Women's Education an accessible, interesting complement to other recent volumes that illuminate student life and campus cultures in the 1990s and early 21st century (e.g., Rhoads, 1998; Sidel, 1994; Suskind, 1998).
Bank attempts to tell "the story of how a cohort of undergraduate women at a small women's college experienced and coped with the contradictions of gender traditionalism, careerism, and community that formed the context in which they received their college education" (p. 4). Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, Bank and her colleague Harriet M. Yelon studied an entering group of 185 students, most of whom were white (175) and traditional college age (average age was 18 and only 4 students were more than 20 years old). Unlike many studies of women's colleges, this one examined students at a nonelite institution, where the average entering GPA was below the national average for students entering 4-year colleges that year.
The central tension Bank identifies in the women's experience is between gender traditionalism and emancipation. Bank posits that the high residential isolation of CWC and the stress put on gender equality by the college culture resulted in a strong press toward gender equality among students who had entered the college with more traditional values, though there was not a press for similar change among students who already held values emphasizing gender equality; for those students, CWC provided a supportive environment that did not challenge them to become more radical in their views. Sororities, to which about half of the sample belonged, were a prime site for the examination of the tension between traditionalism and emancipation, and Bank provides a critical analysis of the influence of historically single-sex organizations on a campus that is already single-sex. [End Page 103]
Bank's analysis of careerism, academic traditions, and collegiate cultures continues the theme of traditionalist versus emancipatory education. Using a typology developed by Katchadourian and Boli (1985), Bank organizes her sample into four categories (Intellectuals, Careerists, Strivers, and Unconnected) based on measurements on Academic and Career Orientation scales. She found that women entering CWC in 1991 were "even more career oriented than the national samples of students entering other 4-year colleges that same year" (p. 69). Only 4.5% were Intellectuals and 26.3% were Unconnecteds, but 30.8% were Strivers and 38.5% were Careerists. Bank attributes this distribution to college students' tendency to justify higher education as a means to a better job rather than merely to a better self and "the increasing tendency among college women, following the path of college men, to define that better self and better life in occupational terms" (p. 70). This tendency toward careerism, it seems, has persisted into the 21st century.
Community at CWC is the final area of Bank's analysis. She describes the ways sororities, athletic teams, extracurricular communities, and friendship groups became sites for "connections and defections" between and among students during their time at CWC. Bank found "the process of creating college communities is more complicated and contradictory than has been fully recognized by either models of student retention or idealizations of community life" (p. 133). Contradictions...