Whether you go to Mount Holyoke or Wellesley, Sweet Briar or Scripps, going to school at a historically female college prompts some exhausting questions. From the moment you tell your parents that Smith is your top choice to the second that you graduate (and years beyond that if we’re being honest), every response to “I go to a women’s college” comes off as either positive and supportive or super confused. There’s absolutely nothing in between. If you go to a women’s school, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you go to a co-ed school—take note.
Here are 8 things you should never ever say to a women’s college student.
1. Have you always wanted to go to a women’s college?
No, I haven’t always wanted to go to a women’s college. Six-year-old me wanted to go to Princeton (where all the princes go). Eleven-year-old me wanted to go to Harvard pre-law. And 18-year-old me, if we’re being honest, wanted to set up camp on the couch with my mom and never move an inch again. Once I realized that I should probably take going to college seriously, I sat down with That Big Book of Colleges and tried to figure out what I wanted out of the next four years of my life.
My list of priorities included an open curriculum, small enough to feel intimate but not too small that I know everyone, fairly rigorous academics and a general feeling of safety. Long story short, I ended up at a Seven Sisters School. Done and done. A liberal atmosphere that simultaneously has great academics screams women’s college to me. As far as the element of feeling safe—the lack of cisgendered men relates directly to me feeling safe walking home from a friend’s dorm late at night, something I feel unbelievably lucky to say.
2. Do you like going to an “all-girls school?”
Or something along those lines. Whatever point you want to make, please stop using the phrase “all-girls school.” It might be one of the most outdated phrases to date. Sure, I may still be in the Britney Spears “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” phase of my life, but I definitely don’t appreciate you acting like I go to an all-girls boarding school with a bunch of sixth graders. Either way, Smith may identify as a “women’s college,” but that does not mean “all women.” Plenty of non-binary, transgender and otherwise gender-nonconforming students get accepted into Smith every year. “All girls?” Not so much. “All Smart and Capable and Kickass Individuals?” That’s more like it.
3. Is everyone a lesbian?
Ah, here we have my absolute favorite question. There are infinite things about this question that simultaneously confuse and offend me. Firstly, if you ask this question, you may as well be saying, “T here can’t be a reason why a female student would ever not prioritize men in their college years, unless she identifies as gay.” Surprisingly enough, college doesn’t have to just be all about sex and love. People sometimes go to college for the sake of going to college.
Secondly, by asking this question, you basically just imply that you think an all-female environment would turn all women queer. Again, that just simply isn’t how life works. I can’t speak for every women’s college in the country, but Smith definitely does have a bigger, more active LGBTQ community than most co-ed schools. But people of all different sexual orientations co-exist at Smith. Do a lot of sexuality-based memes circulate campus? Definitely. But don’t assume that means everyone at Smith has to be exactly the same.
4. How do you meet guys?
Smith may have been pretty old fashioned when it was founded in 1871, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the students live locked up on campus by a wrought iron fence. At a fair amount of schools these days, students can take classes at neighboring colleges and universities, which diversifies the types of people you see walking around every day. So many Smith students leave campus every single day to get to their class at UMass Amherst or Hampshire College. Even if this weren’t the case, don’t forget that apps like Tinder and Bumble exist. I sometimes get the impression that people think I’m shocked to my very core whenever I see a male person on campus.
5. How does your school do sports?
I don’t hear this one often, but when I do… wow. To be (sort of) fair, the person on the other end of this question tends to be born closer to the turn of the 20th century, so understanding that women play sports might be a little beyond the scope of their mind. Not only do women’s colleges have sports, but a good portion of the teams are also like… really good . Women’s collegiate sports teams have no problem in competitions like the Head of the Charles. You definitely won’t have any trouble feeling the school spirit at Smith basketball games. To sum up: just don’t worry about it.
6. I could never go to a women’s school. Girls are so mean.
Well, technically, you wouldn’t be wrong here. We’ve all seen Mean Girls. Does that ruthlessness go away by the time they’ve packed up their childhood rooms and driven off to college? Maybe, maybe not. But if cattiness and cliques immediately come to mind when you picture a women’s college, shouldn’t we rewind and unpack that? Both co-ed and historically female communities can experience this dynamic. Even then, the quest to find your people—the ones who make you smile and feel important—deserves 100 percent of your attention. For me, at least, I knew this would be an easier task at a women’s college like Smith (and I was so right).
7. What’s the worst thing about going to a women’s college?
Definitely having these conversations. Before I answer that question I always want to ask them, “Why do you want to know?” I mean, come on. I don’t want to pretend that life at a women’s school has no downsides, but I just can’t imagine anyone asking a guy this question about a male school. For some reason, a college being a historically all-female completely changes the overall attitude and vibe that it gives off and not in a good way. What’s the worst thing about going to any Ivy? What’s the worst thing about going to a state school? I see no way of asking a question like that without it sounding like a snide remark. Why not ask me about the best part? (Hint: it’s being around all my favorite women).
8. Why go to a women’s school if you want to major in [anything STEM related]?
Quick check-in: everyone reading this can tell that this question comes off as pretty offensive, right? Why wouldn’t I go to a women’s school to become a bioengineer? I won’t have to compete with all the men who take up twice as much space in the classroom and three times as much of the professor’s time. Especially in this day and age, it feels absolutely crucial to teach girls from a young age that they can like math and science and that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. While most people would say that our generation has a pretty liberal outlook, some of us were still raised to believe that math and science were for the boys and that we should stick to coloring and baking. Thank goodness for women’s colleges everywhere that are debunking that myth like crazy.
In all honesty, I don’t really think about my school being a women’s college that often. I love going to class and not having to worry about being interrupted or misunderstood. I love the camaraderie and school spirit that grows from being a Seven Sisters school. Only good things have come from my times at Smith, and no one could convince me otherwise, no matter what judgmental questions you throw at me.