Co-education rarely crossed my mind during my time as a Notre Dame student. It never struck me as odd that most of my best friends were males who lived in the dorm next door. I never wanted for a date to a dance, always reassured that I had some trusty pals who would gladly step in, as I would for them.
The pioneering women talk being outnumbered 20:1 in their classes, but for me it was the opposite. Few men gravitated to the artsy English and French literature majors in my days, so it was a rarity to have more than one “male opinion” in the group.
But what’s been made obvious during this 40th anniversary celebration of co-education is that my 21st century normal was definitely abnormal four decades ago. And the fact that I seldom thought about co-education is a sign of how far Notre Dame has come.
Sure, there are remnants of those early tensions. The boys will still squawk and hoot when a pack of girls hit the fro-yo machine in the dining hall. There is almost never a real party in a girls’ dorm, perhaps a result of perceived gender inequality in discipline and strictness, but one we were always thankful for at the end of the night when we could return to a clean, beer-free bedroom. And there’s still an age-old tension with the ladies from Saint Mary’s, partially stemming from the lingering stereotype that Notre Dame girls aren’t pretty.
There are whispers of gender tension, of hook-up culture, of unrealistic dating expectations, of ring-by-spring, but much of it is blown up, not much different from other schools. Instead, for the most part, the gender relations have smoothed over, creating a cohesive university that has learned to adapt and flourish despite its rocky start.
And the women of Notre Dame have banded together as well. In 2009, Notre Dame Women Connect (NDWC) launched as a way for Notre Dame alumnae, mothers, daughters and students to connect professionally, socially and spiritually and which now has over 30 chapters.
While in Miami for the bowl game I attended “Brunch on the Beach,” the inaugural event for the Fort Lauderdale chapter of NDWC. Though they had hoped to host “martinis and manicures,” the best time slot fell on Saturday morning, a bit early for liquor, joked Carol Mullaney, member of the NDWC Steering Committee. Instead the group invited alumnae, students, and wives and mothers of ND grads for a few hours away from the men to brunch, meet, network and hear from a few notable ND women.
We talked about jobs, about football, about festive nail polish and a potential line of OPI Notre Dame paints; we offered and accepted career advice; and we conversed across generations, from current students to the ’76 pioneers, from administrators to elderly wives and mothers. There was little mention of co-education, but at the heart of the celebration was the fact that we were gathered because women were admitted in 1972 and have grown more successful, more widespread and more connected since.
In the following columns we’ve pulled from a panel discussion on co-education, we’ve sought stories on Title IX and we’ve asked you, our readers, to send us your memories from those early years and all the years since. In so doing we ask that you celebrate not only 1972 and our pioneers, but also the progress that has been made, and what is still to come.
Tara Hunt is associate editor of this magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.