Monday, September 29, 2008

College Class for Men Only

In Grant Lopez's speech class last year, he learned how to tie a double Windsor knot, had lunch with the college president and discussed what qualities to look for in a woman.
That is the lead from this article in the San Antonio News about a men-only speech class at Northeast Lakeview College, which has recently come under criticism for offering preferential treatment for male students in violation of Title IX. The professor, Archie Wortham, defends his the exclusion of women from his course saying that it allows men to "sit back and talk about men issues just among themselves." He continues, "It's kind of like, ‘What is said in Vegas stays in Vegas.' There is a measure of confidentiality.'"

As regular readers of this blog well know, I am very dubious of single-sex education for its tendency to reinforce gender stereotypes. And the article's description of Wortham's class proves my point. What stays in Vegas? Why does any issue that's suitable and appropriate for classroom discussion -- a standard that surely excludes the "what qualities to look for in a woman" discussion -- need a measure of confidentiality? This appears to me just another grown up version of the "girls keep out" clubhouse -- only these club members are adults, in a publically funded educational institution. This clubhouse, operating under the loose aegis of an educational purpose, conveys to the men and women of Northeast Lakeview College that men need their space because women will hold them back, oppress, nag, and silence them. Not to mention that female students aren't equally deserving of the networking opportunities afforded to this class, such as lunch with the college president. And last but not least, not to mention the heterosexist assumptions that all men and only men will want to talk about certain stuff like tying ties and what to look for in a woman (again, questioning the academic value of those two examples).

As Bernice Sandler and others quoted in the article explain, this class is on shaky legal grounds and I don't expect that the college can enforce an enrollment restriction on women over a legal challenge. In the meanwhile, it is good that folks are calling attention to this course, so that it can serve as a starting point for a discussion about the messages that it sends.