- Women’s Colleges and Universities in a Global Context by Kristen A. Renn
Kristen A. Renn
Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, 192 pages, $44.95 (hardcover, e-book))
In the twenty-first century, colleges across the world solely dedicated to the education of women are outnumbered by coeducational institutions and serve fewer women graduates than their coeducational peers (Renn, 2014, p. 2). Based on global postsecondary enrollment data, Renn (2014) also acknowledged that most women who have access to coeducational [End Page 645] institutions choose to attend them over a women’s college. Given these data, Renn posed two questions at the outset of her book: “Why would someone with other options choose a women’s institution?” and “What are women’s colleges and universities for in the twenty-first century?” (p. 2). Through a global collective case study of 13 women’s institutions, representing 10 countries and 5 continents (none in the United States), Renn’s (2014) Women’s Colleges and Universities in a Global Context presents compelling data in answer to these questions from the perspectives of students, faculty, and administrative leaders and drawing on extensive archival records.
Renn (2014) organized the book as an empirical report in eight chapters plus a methodological appendix. In the first chapter, Renn introduces the topic and situates the importance of studying women’s postsecondary education in the context of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, 2013) and other international economic development efforts. The first chapter also describes the context of women’s education globally. The second chapter presents a brief overview of the methodology used and introduces the 13 institutions in her sample through brief profiles of their histories, organization and funding, student demographics, and current issues. In chapters 3 through 7, Renn discusses the five findings to her main research question regarding the roles that women’s colleges played: providing access, creating welcoming campus climates, developing women as leaders, engaging in gender empowerment both on campus and in local communities, and as contradictory and paradoxical symbols of women’s potential. In the final chapter, Renn directs the reader’s attention to the future roles of women’s colleges. For readers who want to know more about the methodological approach used in this study, Renn places those details in an appendix drawn heavily from a previously published article (Renn, 2012).
There are several strengths in the text, not the least of which is that the book is exceptionally well-written and easy to read. This does not mean that Renn’s writing is simplistic, but rather that she deftly engages complex ideas and issues in a writing style that is approachable and reader-friendly. Footnotes were used to extend discussion of an issue or idea raised in the text, allowing more casual readers to digest the text without being bogged down in jargon and theoretical details. However, those readers who are interested may find that the richest insights related to the conduct of the study and its analytical complications are reserved for the notations.
Renn’s study is also a good exemplar of collective case study research. Moreover, heeding cautions from transnational feminist scholars and other international researchers (e.g., Mendez & Wolf, 2011; Mendoza, 2002; Shahjahan & Kezar, 2013), Renn attends to the challenges and opportunities raised by research across national borders and I thought these were both thoughtfully considered and well-executed. Although she regularly references issues faced by US women’s colleges in relation to her findings from these 13 globally located institutions, Renn does not use US experiences with women’s colleges as an analytical filter.
In addition, I found that Renn boldly engages the complexities of women’s lives globally, giving careful attention to the intersections of gender, culture, economics, and education. In doing so, Renn drew on intersectionality research as discussed by Yuval-Davis (2011) and a “glonacal [global– national–local] agency heuristic” (as cited in Renn, 2014, p. 138) developed by Marginson and Rhoades (2002). This adds a richness and complexity to her analysis, especially in connection to Renn’s acknowledgement [End Page 646] of the paradoxes...