Monday, March 31, 2008

Roanoke Times article

Last fall, several upperclassmen including myself were interviewed by a reporter from the Roanoke times. For the most part, the reporter has managed to capture the rift on this campus. As expected, there are points I don't agree with: the use of the story about the secret society makes it sound as though we have a KKK chapter on campus. Anyone familiar with RMWC would know that our societies stretch all the way back to the beginning of this school; all harmless traditions.

No upperclassmen that I know condoned the behavior of whatever secret society decided to hood themselves and enter the freshman dorm. However, they acted like people were personally terrorizing them.

I'm sorry that students were outside your door in a hood- I admit, that is scary. But coming from a senior who has heard her fair share of ridiculous catcalls from first year men last fall, it's just as creepy for some 17 year old boy to follow you on back campus and say disgusting things.

One part of the article that made me laugh was the part about the dining hall ranking system. I noticed this ranking system the first day I was on campus; I openly shared the story with the reporter. I'm glad the men at least admitted to this childish act; did they REALLY think a bunch of 22 year old soon-to-be grads of a woman's college would want to be ranked according to numbers as we entered the dining hall?

Anyways, it is what it is.

Dividing lines

They started as freshmen at a women's college and will graduate from a coed campus. This first year of transition for Randolph College was difficult for many students, but the school's future is looking brighter.

JARED SOARES The Roanoke Times

SAM DEAN The Roanoke Times

Randolph College freshman Cameron Shepherd of Roanoke reviews notes during the first day of class.

JUSTIN COOK The Roanoke Times

Randolph men's basketball coach Clay Nunley keeps his eye on the action as his team takes on Lynchburg College. He has been building the team from scratch, establishing a new series of traditions.

JUSTIN COOK The Roanoke Times

Hillary Peabody teases her boyfriend, Montana Gibson, as they cook dinner at his home in Lynchburg. Hillary, a senior and student government president at Randolph College, opposed the college's going coed, but her stance hasn't stopped her from dating Montana.

JUSTIN COOK The Roanoke Times

Senior Molly Bunder (left), sophomore Elysia Lopez and freshman Brandon Morgan rehearse the play "Boy Gets Girl" at Randolph College. Bunder is an outspoken critic of the college's decision to go coed.

SAM DEAN The Roanoke Times

Randolph College freshman Pete Hamilton (center) of Roanoke participates in a teambuilding exercise during orientation.

LYNCHBURG -- Everything was degenerating so quickly.

Men in the dining hall supposedly ranking women's looks, one to 10. Men cat-calling in that Joey-from-"Friends" voice: "How you doin'?" Men offering answers during physics, hogging the questions. A professor having to change a comparison to a designer shoe, a Manolo Blahnik.

This is what they dreaded -- men stealing the limelight from women.

It was enough to make senior Molly Bunder worry about her school -- Randolph-Macon Woman's College -- being lost.

Physically, everything was the same -- stately Colonial buildings, arched doorways, grounds dotted by tall pines, a place steeped in tradition and surrounded by walls of red brick.

But the way Molly saw it, the soul of the place was gone.

To blame, she felt, were the 76 men who stepped on campus in August 2007 and the administrators who admitted them.

Molly had heard the reasons why, after 115 years, her college went coed. Trustees were concerned about declining enrollment, steep tuition discounts, spending on the school's endowment. Administrators seemed to be sending a message -- to survive, the college needed men.

But as the daughter of an alumna, Molly grew up absorbing tales of ladies singing Beatles songs in the stairwells, of being invited to tea in professors' offices.

She began the fall of her senior year fiercely opposed to the end of Randolph-Macon's all-female tradition. She worried coed would disrupt the campus' spirit of sisterhood, ladies' close bond with instructors, rituals like a fall pumpkin festival with cider and cookies.

She wasn't alone in her feelings.

As freshman orientation stretched into fall days filled with classes, sporting events and first exams, friction rose. The coed transition began with student protests, followed by tears, lawsuits and rumors about every action of freshmen.

Eventually, the tension exploded into an incident involving hooded figures roaming a dorm, an act intended to scare first-year students off campus.

It did that and more, threatening to tear apart the college's tight community.

Months later, some seniors are still bitter as graduation approaches. Some refuse to speak their school's new name, Randolph College.

"We applied to a women's college, and we're not graduating from one," said Hillary Peabody, the student government president. "[Men] are the reality of what we don't want to happen at our school."

Yet even Hillary, who arranged her fall schedule to avoid classes with men, found herself on both sides of the issue as the semester unfolded with all the elements of a bad blind date.

Only these men and women couldn't part ways at the end of the night.

A campus divided

The bad behavior started with a party.

It happened the second night of orientation, hosted by male athletes in a first-year dorm. There was lots of alcohol and the room was crowded. Music pulsed outside the room. The party was bumping.

Stories vary, but some say this was the cover charge: a pledge that both women and men had to strip off their shirts.

That night formed the seniors' first impression. Many felt it would take a lot to repair the rift.

Randolph-Macon was never a party school. Drinking had always been quiet and controlled.

For some women, the first men's soccer game was enough to bring tears. Administrators and fans filled the stands -- their stands -- when for so long, bleachers at their games stood empty.

Administrators seemed to be saying "boys will be boys." But the women were watching and whispering.

Some of the buzz was based on truth. There was a party during orientation, but Jonas Kjaer, a 19-year-old soccer player, blames the women for making up the nudity part to inflame everyone. When the party was busted, seniors stood outside clapping.

Rumors of men ranking ladies' looks in the dining hall were not entirely false, freshman basketball player Mike Creef admits. When guys see a girl, they say she's pretty.

"I don't know how they found out," he said. "We were trying to be discreet."

It's not like they were holding up scorecards, Jonas said.

Even first-year ladies, some seniors felt, were not "woman's college" women. They seemed less mature, less concerned about their studies, more conscious of how they were viewed by men.

A Randy-Mac woman would never go to a party and peel off her shirt.

Many of Molly Bunder's fellow seniors said the semester was becoming the longest of their lives. But she thought it was the shortest because every week seemed to bring a new crisis.

The theater major's first semester included rehearsing a play she had pushed for since summer: "Boy Gets Girl." In it she played a strong woman who goes on a blind date and ends up being stalked.

She must change her name, reinvent herself. Her life is upended by men.

The cast chose the play to provoke discussion about gender inequality and sexual abuse -- not Molly's outrage. But after loving her college so much, she knew exactly what it felt like for someone to destroy her life.

"Maybe being a woman," her character says, "means tolerating a lot of s---."

A growing discord

Growing up in Roanoke, Cameron Shepherd and Pete Hamilton often faced each other on the basketball court, opponents in traveling youth leagues and high school.

The 19-year-old freshmen started at Randolph last fall as roommates and teammates on the school's first male basketball team.

Like most men, they came to the college for sports, arriving on a humid August morning where Cameron's grandmother expected protesters and his single dad -- faced with the reality of taking his only child to college -- cried on the road to campus.

Other schools, such as Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, offered Cameron a full ride for academics. Roanoke College gave him a chance to play hoops -- junior varsity.

But he liked coach Clay Nunley when he visited Randolph. He wanted to be part of something new.

That meant obeying Nunley's echoed commands through hours of practice, racing and running drills as their Nikes squeaked against the polished hardwood and their toned arms became streaked with sweat.

Nunley is all muscle, with a deep voice and a strong superhero jaw. He's a Virginia native who, in college, played Division III ball -- leaving him with a soft spot that would bring him, at age 31, to Randolph. He left an assistant coaching job at West Point midseason, charged with building a team in the South.

When Cameron and Pete visited campus in high school, there were no teammates for them to meet, no games to watch, no winning record to consider.

Nunley's 11 recruits were asked to make a commitment based on faith.

They knew not everyone wanted them here. Yet Cameron did not feel the men were entitled to more than women. He understood why the seniors were upset and respects their traditions.

Tan and well-spoken, Cameron opens doors for ladies, calls his elders "ma'am," carries his girlfriend's picture in his wallet. He was a valedictorian at William Byrd High School -- a smart guy who was good on the court.

But friction began right away.

A Facebook posting said the basketball men came to Randolph only because they couldn't play anywhere else. Meanwhile, male soccer players complained someone had sprayed bottled deer urine in their dorm during their first game.

Others whispered that the male athletes were paid to come to campus.

As a Division III school, Randolph can't offer sports scholarships to ease its $25,350 annual tuition. Instead, both Cameron and Pete were awarded money for academics. Pete's parents pay more for his sister's in-state school than they do to Randolph.

Across campus that first semester, anger was so intense that students could feel it in the dining room. Freshmen women were called sluts when they passed Webb Hall, the senior dorm. Guys were told, "Go home!"

In return, some men stood bare-chested outside Webb. Just to annoy the seniors.

The boiling point

The acceptance letter was what lured her from California. It was personalized with her name -- Elysia Lopez -- and explained why Randolph liked her.

Letters from other schools -- Georgetown and Notre Dame -- began "Dear student."

She embraced the college's atmosphere of caring and respect. She felt like an individual, not a number.

For Elysia, a sophomore, Randolph was an amazing experience -- one she did not want to change when the school went coed.

She'd made a choice when she returned to campus in August. She could be bitter, or she could show men that a woman could be a feminist and accepting.

Her attitude was noticed.

Right away, she befriended Peter McIlvenny, an Irish exchange student who lived down the hall. Everyone thought they were dating, but it wasn't like that -- they were like brother and sister.

The hate mail soon came -- notes with skulls and crossbones calling her a traitor, warning, "Watch your back."

A threatening phone call followed from a blocked number.

As a Randy-Mac woman, she was supposed to know better than to welcome men.

When coeducation came, Elysia hurt, too. But guys, she reasoned, were not the ones making the decision. Each young man is somebody's son, somebody's boyfriend, somebody's brother.

This is not what she expected from her sisters.

She was so scared that she stayed in an off-campus hotel the second weekend in September.

Elysia talked to the residence life director when she returned that Monday. She'll take care of it, Elysia thought. Finally, she relaxed.

Until that night. When all the hot anger on campus boiled over.

It was late. Elysia recalled she and friends were in Peter's room when one of them spotted a figure walking down the hall -- a woman in a black robe and hood.

Elysia peeked out to see for herself.

Cloaked figures gathered outside her room. Some stood on either side of the door. Three more waited down the hall. One sat on a trash can.

All guarding.

Waiting for her.

They wore matching robes and hoods -- full-length and long-sleeved, with dark veils covering their faces. Elysia could not recognize a single feature, just the tops of tennis shoes.

Guys on her Bell Hall floor saw them, too, and used cellphones to snap pictures. The cloaked figures did not scare the men. Many said they knew it was the women, "dressing up like Halloween."

But after everything, Elysia was terrified.

Peter stepped into the hall, cursing in his "crazy Irish accent."

This was unacceptable, he told them. This was shameful. This was a disgrace.

Meanwhile, Elysia called her resident director from Peter's room. The phone kept ringing. Ringing and ringing.

The stairwell was beside Peter's room -- her escape. She sneaked out, pushing the heavy metal door. She ran down a flight of stairs, reaching the R.D.'s room. She started pounding. Pounding and pounding -- until she heard the stairwell door creak.

She turned around. They marched toward her, single file. Eight figures in black.

Elysia stood, back pressed against the door, as they circled around -- coming for her.

Most women on campus were unhappy, but this small minority was taking action.

Elysia is not a man-hater. That's not what she feels being a feminist is about. The college she knew was about genuine love. She thinks some women forgot that with coed.

As the cloaked figures surrounded her, a friend -- a soccer player -- was outside and saw what was happening through the window. He ran inside.

"Leave her alone," he ordered.

The women left through a back door, never saying a word.

Elysia does not know what would have happened next. She's heard rumors before about secret societies hazing women -- physically and verbally -- on campus.

Peter stayed in Elysia's room that night. He was up until dawn, keeping watch.

The raid led Peter to a decision. Even Elysia found herself encouraging him -- it was best to move to another school.

His exchange program arranged a transfer to Iowa's Cornell College.

Days later, he was in the dean of students' office signing withdrawal papers as a staff member's eyes filled with tears.

No one harassed him at Randolph -- everyone was so nice. But this was his time abroad, his year to have fun before returning to Ireland.

This, he felt, was not his fight to fight.

Signs of a new future

The day after the raid, Cameron and Pete gathered with athletes in an outdoor quad.

Men and women. First-years and seniors. They were all athletes, they decided. They must get along.

The roommates were across campus in their dorm during the chaos. A basketball teammate called after spotting a cloaked figure in his doorway, reflected in his computer screen.

Cameron and Pete reached Bell Hall after the cloaked figures left, at the end of an outdoor freshmen-versus-seniors shouting match. Security came, but the crowd took a half-hour to simmer and scatter. Cameron and Pete didn't understand what was happening, only that people were upset.

Randolph's president, John Klein, sent an e-mail to faculty, staff and students, saying what happened would not be tolerated.

"The actions of these few students are not representative of the values of this college," it read.

Dressing in hoods, after all, is a felony in Virginia.

Later, seniors held a meeting with freshmen. They apologized, saying not all seniors were against them.

They did not come to college, some freshmen said, to get treated like this.

Some students turned themselves in to Sarah Swager, dean of students. All she can say is the night involved a secret society, and she needs it to change its ways.

She considered the raid the wake-up call that was needed to make adjustments.

"We knew something would jolt us into talking," she said.

Afterward, a lot of women told the dean, "I'm going to be part of the solution."

Swager knows some women will never accept the change, but going coed has brought vibrancy to campus. A college-sponsored dance in September was a sweaty, standing-room-only mass. Socials were ghost towns in the past. Here, the building was creaking.

Before, campus emptied on weekends. Ladies focused on academics, putting play in second place. Before, the women were so serious, administrators invented a holiday, "Mac Doodle Day," canceling classes so students could build sculptures out of Cheez Doodles.

Just weeks into the fall term, Swager saw students playing volleyball on courts that were never used, and men tossing footballs on campus.

"There's a spirit creeping on our campus that's really nice," she said.

Smells like team spirit

Outside the locker room, the team huddled, fists raised and touching.

"One, two, three!" one player shouted.

"Team together!" the crew responded.

The gym was full this November night for the Wildcats' first home basketball game. Here, women and men who had been so edgy with each other earlier in the year had a chance to yell for one another.

Cameron was nervous, high-fiving a teammate to the bump of hip-hop. He already scored the first point in team history when the Wildcats played out of town the previous week.

Players pumped one another up.

"Do you know how many teams underestimate us?" one asked.

"It's our time to shine, baby," another chanted all the way into the gym.

The student section was small but vocal -- a trait adopted by even the newest Randolph students.

The women's softball team, fresh from their tailgate, were the loudest, cheering for defense: "C'mon, guys, let's go!"

Life on campus was slowly getting easier.

The game drew a largely freshman crowd dotted by upperclassmen. Many male athletes came to women's games, now ladies were here in return.

Junior Brittany Eubanks, a volleyball player, protested the coed decision. She never pictured herself rooting for men.

"They're now a part of our school," she said. "We're still kind of dealing with it. ... [Going co-ed] is not really their fault."

On the court, coach Nunley paced the sidelines in his dark suit, clapping, pointing, barking orders. Benched players sat on folding chairs whose cushions still read, "R-MWC."

The game was a blowout --104-23 against Patrick Henry College. Hugs and knocked knuckles were everywhere as sweaty players squeezed into the packed hall outside the gym, Pete carrying the game ball.

Mom Carsonette Hamilton rustled Pete's auburn hair.

"Did you notice the gym was full?" she asked. "You are setting a good precedent."

Back in the locker room, the team applauded Nunley. The next game was days away, he reminded them, a new battle.

"Get ready for the future," he said.

New friends, new peace

It's six weeks until graduation, and peace has returned near the end of this mass blind date.

The women know their classmates now -- it was easy to talk trash when they could not match faces and names.

Even a leader of the opposition, student body president Hillary Peabody, is dating a male transfer student -- though it took a while before they held hands on campus.

Still, the change is hard for some seniors.

Hillary, for instance, still makes a point of not saying her college's new name.

Molly Bunder, meanwhile, burst into tears when she crossed the Virginia state line after winter break. Her anger is fading, but has not led to acceptance.

She's looking ahead, auditioning for graduate theater programs. But even the end has come with annoyances -- graduation materials sent to parents say, "Randolph College."

Her degree, like that of most seniors, will read, "Randolph-Macon Woman's College."

The way she looks at it, her alma mater is dead. After picking up her diploma, she's never coming back.

Sophomore Elysia Lopez is leaving, too. She will study in England next year. Overseas, this English major and tennis captain can choose from hundreds of literature courses and has hopes of watching Wimbledon.

After being harassed, she had planned to spend the rest of college abroad. Now, she wants to return to Randolph as a senior. She does not want to miss graduation.

No one has bothered her since the raid. She thinks Peter McIlvenny's transfer made everyone rethink their actions.

Peter does not believe in regrets, but wonders what would have happened if he had stayed.

Even now, he can imagine the bond seniors shared over the years, especially after 115 years of history. He knows change is hard and can see why some would want to take their anger out on somebody. It's a pity, he said, that it had to be the boys.

Now, men and women alike are applying to Randolph in record numbers.

Coach Nunley has traveled three states in search of basketball recruits. This year, he could tell of his team's 8-14 record, and have visitors spend time with players.

The team is a family now, and Cameron and Pete, more like brothers.

They hosted two Hidden Valley High School seniors in their dorm one night, where comforters crumpled at the foot of each bed, the trash overflowed and the long-legged recruits sat with them watching "Streetball" on ESPN.

Three girls squeezed into the room wearing late-night sweat suits and ponytails.

"You guys should definitely come here," they echoed.

"You're not just a number," Ashley Woodrum, 18, added.

"We're like a family," Rachel Carlson, 18, told them.

The basketball season ended at home on a mid-February night.

With a minute left and a seven-point lead, the student section was on its feet.

"They're all fresh-men!" students chanted at the Lynchburg College rivals.

"They're all fresh-men!" Clap-clap. Clap-clap-clap.

Afterward, players on the inaugural team signed a basketball to be displayed in a trophy case. Long after the last all-women's class is gone, after the college grows and coed becomes the norm, the signed ball will be there -- a piece of history as new traditions bloom within the red brick walls of campus.

1 comment:

Heather Benza said...

I'm confused how admitting men makes our school money if they are giving them such big scholarships it's cheaper than an in-state public university?
Very frustrating!