The question was bound to come up. Whenever I met someone new at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and told them about Wellesley, they inevitably asked “A women’s college? What’s the point of a women’s college?”
At this point, I launched into the importance of historical women’s colleges in patriarchal societies and then often, they would roll their eyes and declare: “There’s no such thing as patriarchy!” I could go into detail about the argument that followed but I won’t bore you. We’ve all been there.
Yet despite the frustration those conversations inspired, they led me to realize that my defense of women’s colleges does not encompass all of my expectations of what a women’s college should be. I noticed that while I talked about the importance of being surrounded by peers who were as driven as you and equal female representation in the faculty, I did not mention financial security or independence.
This year, tuition increased by over four percent, raising the cost of attendance to a grand total of $70,200. For those of us on financial aid, this can result in even larger loans as well as a bigger dent in our parents’ and our personal savings. Although Wellesley’s public commitment to empowerment is inspiring, what would be truly empowering is having enough money to afford rent after graduation and to perhaps have an established savings account so we won’t be living paycheck to paycheck. For a college that was founded as an institution dedicated to the advancement of women, it is mind-boggling that Wellesley does not recognize that financial security is paramount to women’s liberation.
If Wellesley College is genuinely committed to the advancement of its students, it would adopt a financial aid system that enables us to save money so that following graduation, we are not dependent on our parents or on the bank. During the school year, we should be able to study and work without worrying about skyrocketing tuition and mounting loans.
In addition to the debilitating financial system, the college’s treatment of student workers leaves much to be desired. After working multiple semesters in the same job, all student workers should be eligible for a raise that is more than a mere 25 to 50 cents. Students are told that there isn’t enough funding in their departments for a meaningful increase, though there always seems to be enough money somewhere for the members of the administration to receive multi-thousand dollar bonuses.
And for those of us who request a duly-owed raise, we should not be treated like we are overstepping our boundaries. Instead, in a society that continues to pay women far less than their male counterparts, Wellesley should teach us salary negotiation techniques so we are not exploited by our future bosses in the workplace.
Currently, the financial system at Wellesley is patriarchal. It holds women back by erecting obstacles of debt in our path. We, as students, must hold Wellesley accountable and demand that if it seeks to brand itself as pre-eminent in women’s education and advancement, it must adopt financial policies that embrace, rather than ignore or scoff at, such a basic idea.