At the end of March, the Classes of 2018 voted to decide between joint seating and processions for commencement or separate seating and processions by college. The debate prompted discussion about gender differences and inclusivity within the coordinate system. To shed greater light on the discussion the Herald asked three campus leaders and active participants in the conversation to express their views in print.
Many students who argue joint seating at graduation cite a shared academic experience. We take the same classes, participate in the same clubs, and send passive-aggressive emails to the same registrar’s office.
It is true that many of our experiences our shared, however, the outcome of these experiences differ greatly between colleges. There is an unmistakable achievement gap between Hobart College and William Smith College, and having separate seating by colleges is one way to highlight this at graduation.
When I attended the 2016 Commencement Exercises, where seating was separated by college, I was astonished by the clear differences in academic achievement. A page of William Smith student’s names would be peppered with references to honors projects, double majors, honor societies, and Latin honors. On the Hobart side, this was noticeably scarcer. In the classes of 2016, 8 Hobart Students compared to 19 William Smith students completed honors projects.
These differences manifest in different ways throughout the commencement exercises. In 2017, 49 Hobart students received Latin Honors compared to 128 William Smith students. In short, while our academic experiences overlap, William Smith clearly produces better students. In other words— the women on this campus are by and large performing better than their male counterparts.
This is not unique to Hobart and William Smith. The National Center for Education Statistics’ data indicates that the achievement gap between men and women is growing. It starts before college, with 72.5% of female high school graduates enrolling in four or two year college compared to 65.8% of males.
I do not write this to disparage any individual Hobart students. We all know that grades aren’t everything. However, when the gaps are this large there is no other conclusion than that they are systematic.
And yet, despite the achievements of women at HWS or at colleges nationwide, we are still largely absent from leadership positions, Fortune 500 board rooms, and the halls of congress.
Commencement is the end of our journeys at HWS, but it is the beginning of our careers. William Smith students will be fighting in uphill battle as many of us enter male-dominated fields. There is no better place than commencement to signal to our families and communities that women are savvy, intelligent, hardworking, and deserving of the same opportunities to lead our world as men. Separate seating will best facilitate this mission and send a strong signal that William Smith College is an academic powerhouse, and that we will go forth and change the world.