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Women's College Is the First of Its Kind : Education: Community college's one-year pilot program is designed to be a public counterpart to private schools, which are cited for their success in fostering excellence.

August 26, 1993|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA — Students returning to Santa Monica College on Monday will find something new this fall--a college-within-the-college devoted to women.

According to SMC President Richard Moore, the new college, which will begin as a one-year pilot program, is the nation's first public two-year women's college.

Why a college for women on a community-college campus? "Because it's time," said Moore, who said the idea had been gaining momentum for almost a decade. More than half--about 55%--of SMC's 22,000 students are women.

"I think there's a great hunger for it out there," said Brenda Ness, who teaches history at SMC and helped create the new Women's College. Ness emphasized that the new college will be more than a women's studies program. "This will cover all the disciplines with sensitivity to women's educational needs," she said.

In explaining why he has long thought SMC should have a women's college, Moore said that he has been impressed with the graduates of private colleges for women because so many of them "have a sense of confidence and self-esteem that permits leadership." Moore said he wanted such a program for SMC "because I think it's important that the public sector at least equal what the private sector is doing."

A key factor in launching the program at this time, Moore said, was the willingness of SMC history professor Lillian Jones to help plan it and act as its coordinator. Jones formerly headed ethnic studies and women's studies programs at Cal Poly Pomona.

According to Jones, women's colleges have an established track record of producing successful graduates. "Women who have attended women's colleges have, in much greater numbers, climbed the ladder of success in the corporate world, government, art and politics," she said.

The organizers of the new school note that a third of U.S. congresswomen and a third of the women board members of leading corporations attended women's colleges.

Faculty, students and SMC staff were all involved in planning the college. As part of the process, the planners interviewed the heads of such established women's schools as Mills College in Oakland, Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, Scripps College in Claremont and Spelman College in Atlanta. All four presidents offered to serve as advisers to the new school, Moore said.

The Women's College will initially offer seven courses. They range from such predictable ones as "The Sociology of Sex and Gender" to less obvious fare such as "Stellar Astronomy" and national and California government. Moore explained that the astronomy course might be tailored for the new college by emphasis on the contributions of previously under-recognized women astronomers. "Women deserve--and, like other human beings, need--role models, and the role models are there," he said.

Courses will eventually cover all disciplines, and students who take the program will be able to transfer to four-year colleges.

Courses will be taught by men and women "who are sensitive to gender issues," college officials said. Men are welcome in all classes. "It's against the law for this college to discriminate on the basis of sex," he said.

Moore characterized the new college as a place where gender stereotypes will be scrutinized and where the "non-cognitive elements" that can enhance or impede education will be addressed. "Colleges were set up for white males," Moore said. "As we have other than white males attending them, we find the institutions themselves have to be changed."

A decision will be made next year on whether the program will become permanent, after a review by faculty, administrators and the college's Board of Trustees.

Moore, who has a reputation as an innovator in community college education, said he has high expectations for the new Women's College. "I think this will be a wonderful dance," he said.

Ness pointed out that when she first went to college in the 1960s, women were all but invisible in the curriculum. "We didn't read women philosophers. We didn't even read women poets!" The new college will allow students "to consider women as part of the big picture." That's "refreshing," she said, then corrected herself.

"That's an understatement. It's exciting!"

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