Co-ed Never: Reflections on the Core of Wabash Traditions
When I first heard about Wabash, I thought it sounded ridiculous. An all-male institution? College is when you’re supposed to meet hoards of women, right?
All of that changed when I visited campus. From the quirky traditions to the fervent pursuit of knowledge, I knew that Wabash was special. And as unnatural and weird as the all-male aspect seemed to me at first, with time and discipline I’ve come to appreciate it as a strong component of my education.
So when the Conservative Union began selling “Wabash Forever, Co-Ed Never” t-shirts, I didn’t think anything of it. This community is defined by this sort of fierce pride in virtually every aspect of its existence.
But to some people, this wasn’t just another little spot of Wabash pride. Some professors felt threatened by the shirts or afraid to buy them. A minor email war erupted.
It all came as a surprise to me. As a student, I am surrounded by like-minded individuals who strongly believe in the value of a single-sex education. Wabash men are in Crawfordsville, Indiana, because they want to be here.
I’m struck by a quote from Fiske Guide to Colleges, “Intense bonding is an important part of the Wabash experience, and few co-ed schools can match the loyalty of Wabash alumni. All-male Wabash has not only prospered but also remained true to its conservative academic and social traditions.” Maybe it is bonding by trauma, but the results are undeniable.
Could this bond be formed at a co-ed institution? Perhaps. But what has repeatedly struck me is the instantaneous sort of conversations that happen when Wallies congregate, even outside of the classic halls. Bring four Wabash men from any corner of the world, and you’ll at least have an excellent conversation. I am convinced that with the right tools, Wabash men united in purpose can accomplish anything. We are united by something in our core, and part of this deep tradition stems from deeper traditions of masculinity. We are proud to be men—we are proud to be brothers.
This fierce pride seems sexist to some. But I think Wabash students understand it best. I asked Corey Buehner ’11 his opinion: “The pride does not come from the lack of women students but in the unique atmosphere that has developed because of it. Would taking pride in your ethnic background be racist? I don’t think so.” Institutions like Unidos por Sangre or the Malcolm X Institute flourish at Wabash because of a proud respect for unique cultures of various forms. And pride like this isn’t exclusive to ethnicity or gender—even the Laser Tag club derives some exclusive honor from their mission. Likewise, it is the unique mission of Wabash College—to foster the learning and brotherhood of a community of men—that creates pride in being a Wabash man. It is the single-sex nature of Wabash that gives students their swagger.
This alumni pride hardly necessitates an all-male staff. Though for women, I would guess, teaching a classroom filled exclusively with men would be quite the different experience, it’s definitely not impossible for women to succeed as honorable professors here. Though they may have more ground to cover before they can identify with students as easily as, say, a college alumni, female professors have historically thrived at Wabash; indeed, some of the best interactions I’ve ever had have been with female faculty on this campus.
Wabash is about discourse, of course, but, and equally important, Wabash is also about unity. While we shouldn’t silence debate on issues, we must never lose sight of who we are.
This is the most disconcerting part of the entire issue. The all-male aspect is certainly one aspect of Wabash, and undoubtedly the defining aspect for many when viewing Wabash College from the outside. Yet Wabash should be defined first and foremost by an unquenchable desire for education and community. If the best method of learning to think critically, act responsibly, live humanely and lead effectively is to completely transform Wabash College, then make your case and let’s get on with it. I, for one, believe that Wabash is its greatest when we return to the status quo ante – days when men looked first for wisdom and next for brothers in their quest. Here, if anywhere, I have found people that care about learning, care about results, and care about each other. If Wabash changes at all, let it change for the better. From all that I’ve seen, that means co-ed never.