By Carly Priest
In 1972, the College of the Holy Cross flung open its doors to female students. Well, perhaps “flung” fails to convey the full nature of such opportunity— in 1972, the College of the Holy Cross begrudgingly cracked open her iron gates to admit women, saving the school (and the Jesuit reputation) from future bankruptcy. Holy Cross, among the last of the historically all-male Jesuit colleges to admit women, fell behind most Worcester institutions, too, including Assumption, Clark, WPI and Worcester State. The pioneers initially composed just 30% of the first coed class, enduring with no opportunities for varsity athletics, few female faculty members, and enormous mountain (aside from just Mount St. James) to climb.
This summer, I reflected on one of the promises of a Jesuit institution, to “educate the whole person,” and what far-reaching focus such entails. I couldn’t seem to shake the little inquiring voice in my head: even if Holy Cross educated generations of brilliant men in the decades prior to 1972 (and I’m not arguing the school didn’t), would not the absent perspectives of female students and faculty members (as roughly 50% of the world population!) generate a cosmic-sized gap in the “wholeness” of any such education? If prior to 1972 Holy Cross could fail to “educate the whole person”, what must we evaluate about the perceived “wholeness” of our education in 2016?
And then it hit me: In seek of social justice initiatives; we often miscalculate the very work still to complete on our own hill, in our own communities.
Just as our beloved campus prior to 1972 lacked the voices of biologically female students, so too in 2016 our students often tune out the perspectives of those traditionally (and currently) in the minority on this campus. To “educate the whole” entails cultivation of a non-static image of social justice, one not trapped simply in those places students travel to on immersions or in community service site vans— it must ever influence the thoughts, actions, and learning of everyday life. Ignatius imbues those educators within the Jesuit tradition with terrific responsibility, and those recipients (read: us) with an incredible debt. Thanks to Iggy’s wisdom, we receive a phenomenal education with a catch: we must evaluate the world based not simply upon our own perceptions, but from our experiences in solidarity with others. We are called in service, as “Men and Women, for and with others”. The price of a truly Jesuit education proves great responsibility and expectation: should we fail in the mission of solidarity, we fail to grasp the very core of social justice, the highest standard of academic evaluation.
Fast forward forty-four years and the hills of Holy Cross today seem less precarious: women comprise around 50% of our student body, Title IX legislates equal protections, Resource Peer Educators devote time and college resources to sexual assault prevention, a direct address of an issue that very disproportionately threatens women across the world. As a student, a varsity athlete, a non-Catholic and a woman, I can attest to the forty-four years of change: in the years since 1972, Holy Cross made strides. However, if we allow our history of grudging inclusion to speak for itself, so it reveals an important, continuing fight for total, meaningful equality— on our campus, in our country, and throughout our world. In our failures to acknowledge the voice of history, we destroy in the name of culture, bombast to protect tradition, and allow ignorance a gargantuan globe for immanence. To paraphrase the wisdom of Dr. King, real change occurs only with the understanding that fight proves not in the exchanges of differing sex, gender, pigment, orientation, culture, wealth or background, but in the education of those who realize the unfaltering incompatibility of partial justice in the face of that which is unjust.
How to reclaim the “wholeness” of our education and cultivate solidarity with others at Holy Cross? To begin, I propose this column, with a two-fold focus: firstly, to examine issues of justice in broader society, especially as they materialize in our own campus culture; secondly, to gain the insights and perspectives of students across this campus, and begin a long-overdue dialogue. Though confronting these issues will not be pretty, anyone who has had an awkward phase (braces, bless you) knows that true beauty and understanding emerges from the awkward and at times, uncomfortable.
So, with this inaugural 1972 column article, I welcome any and all student submissions about social justice issues to our forum.
Courtesy of the Worcester Telegram
Women enrolled at Holy Cross for the first time in 1972.