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Gender at Bryn Mawr College: A Proposal

Extending the Contact Zone: Gender at BMC:

Project Proposal

By Akane Hirose and Amaka Eze


Akane and I propose to address the topic of gender within the context of Bryn Mawr College. In accordance with our recent studies of the “contact zone,” we now take on Bryn Mawr as our foreground, and begin to examine such an environment through the lens of identity, focusing on gender. Through our collaborative efforts, we plan to collect and synthesize paralleled and complimentary research on our respective domains: Akane will explore the nature of a women’s space, historically, and the importance of such a space within the greater context of academia, whilst I will supplement said research with an exploration of the male role within this institution, and how the male presence itself affects administrative and classroom dynamics. In joint investigation, we will then delve into the ever-progressing topic of transgenderism, and more specifically, how a traditionally mono-gendered institution addresses the issues of inclusivity and transgender identity while still preserving its core missions.


Part I: A Women’s Space

1) Why is it a womens’ space?

  • Archival research / interview admission officer

  • history of women college, founding of BMC

  • (men dominant society? demands for women space? women right?)

  • why was BMC established as a women college?

  • the proportion of race, class of women in BMC

  • (how was it at first? how has it changed?)

  • how about other women college in US?

  • (why they were established as women colleges? for who?)

2) Why is it important to create an intellectual space for women?

  • interview admission officer, faculties, current students in BMC

  • why did we choose women college?

  • what is the merit for women only community?

  • why BMC persist on being a women college while other women colleges become co-ed?

  • was there any struggle to maintain that policy?


Part II: And Men?

Within the context of a historically-homogenous space, what is the role of men? How have men functioned within the space?

  • Archival Inquiry
  • How many male faculty/administrators were employed at the time of Bryn Mawr College’s founding?
  • Faculty: consult Public Information Office


  • Bi-Co/Tri-Co Relations
  • Have men always been able to take classes here?
  • Archival research
  • Admissions office


  • How do men feel in Bryn Mawr classes?
  • Interviews with Haverford male students who take BMC classes


  • How do women students feel about men in BMC classes?
  • Interviews with BMC women
  • Interviews with faculty



Part III: Transgenderism at BMC

1.)  How does transgenderism affect the gender dynamic at BMC? 

  • How do current transgender students feel their gender identity affects the BMC experience
  • Interviews with transgender students
  • Transgender men


  • How does one reconcile with the “other” experience of identifying as male in a traditionally-women’s space?
  • Transgender women


  • How has the new initiative affected the admissions process?
  • How do cisgender, female students feel about transgender-inclusive initiatives?
  • Interviews with cisgender, female students


2.)  How can we promote inclusivity whilst preserving the exclusive nature of a women’s college?

  • When/where do policies come into play?
  • Interviews with Admissions Officers
  • Peaches Valdes (Dean of Undergraduate Admissions)
  • Possible presidential statement?


  • Who has the power to policy-make?


  • Is this still a women’s space?
  • Collaborative interviews
  • Cisgender and transgender students
  • Administrators/faculty/admissions officers


Anne Dalke's picture

Akane and Amaka--
you’ve laid out a fascinating series of nested questions here—it will be very interesting to see how this all plays out!

Akane, you might want to start by reading the two Bryn Mawr chapters --"A Certain Style of Quaker Lady Dress" and "Behold They Are Women!"--  in Helen Horowitz’s book, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. You’ll find another slice of history in "Our Failures Only Marry: Bryn Mawr College and the Failure of Feminism,” in Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness . See if you can get the Horowitz chapters read this week, and then we’ll check in about next steps?

Amaka, for starters you might be interested to see how Caitlin and Allison are framing some not-dissimilar questions: /oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/bmc-and-hc-contact-zone

Since I just happened to respond first to their project, you might review the various leads I list there, including in particular the linked articles I’ll be discussing with alums tomorrow night:

Let Jody and me confer about the archival work (have to see how many of your classmates are interested in this, figure out how best not to overwhelm the college archivist, Evan McGonagill).And I’m not seeing yet is a list of specific names of folks you’ll want to interview (because I teach gender studies, I’ve worked with many of the transmen on campus, and would be happy to offer you some introductions). There has also been some recent media coverage on this topic:



jccohen's picture

Here are some further thoughts from Evan MacGonagill, college archivist:

Gender at BMC: I could imagine these students finding a lot of helping language and intellectual framing for their idea in Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz's book /Alma Mater/> That text does a great job discussing women's intellectual space and the tension between the male legacy of the academic environment with the new generation of female scholars. I can also find information from the archives about the founding of Bryn Mawr College, but secondary sources might be their best source at least in the beginning. Lefkowitz Horowitz's biography of M. Carey Thomas, /The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas/, will tell them much about the role of gender in the founding of the College.  Since gender might not be in index, do Googlebook search on The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas, looking for her view of women.