Coeducation at Washington and Lee University

"Women at W&L: The Beginning of an Error"

Coeducation at Washington and Lee University happened in 1983, much later than at other universities.  W&L was only one of the three all male institutions left in the US before it went coed (Beyond Bow Ties).  The reasons it took Washington and Lee so long to take the plunge are different from what we might expect.  At first, the opposition came from every major stakeholder group involved in the decision – alumni, faculty, and the student body.  The possibility of coeducation was previously discussed many times among administration and faculty, but it was shot down every time.  It took such a long time for the university to consult the student body because of the thorough investigations it wanted to conduct on all possible impacts of the change before they opened the prospect to the public.  Washington and Lee took a very wary and cautious approach to the situation. 

                The major factor that pushed W&L to make the transition was the university’s continuously declining standards and quality of students.  Washington and Lee had become increasingly less competitive and needed to find a way to climb back up the rankings.  By limiting their pool of applicants to men, they only caused harm (Beyond Bow Ties).  By admitting women, they had access to a much larger range of ability, knowledge and diversity, which made raising standards a more viable possibility.  By the time the transition became a reality, both the faculty and the student body had come to realize the benefits of admitting women, and according to a survey done at the time, the majority of each group supported coeducation. 

                Overall, I believe the that source of the delay can be pinned on the excessively cautious approach taken by W&L in addressing this issue, the secrecy of many early discussions about coeducation which caused the student body to take longer to come around to and get used to the idea, and the very conservative opinions held by all parties regarding this drastic change.