Why I...think women should be allowed to study in single-sex colleges

March 17, 2000

Junior common room president at St Mary's College, Durham, one of five single-sex colleges in the UK

When I first came to St Mary's, Durham University's only all-girl college, my mum thought that was it - she would never marry me off. I must admit I thought it was going to be a nightmare too.

But I have had an amazing time here, which is why we are calling for a secret ballot to allow St Mary's students to have their say in the college's future. It is easy for the university authorities to look at the falling application rates and decide they could be improved simply by admitting men. But St Mary's has been single-sex for 101 years and I think it should be allowed to remain that way - if that is what the students want.

Durham University's senate has told our principal she has three years to remarket the college in order to improve its application rates and show there is still a need for an all-girl college. Only 0.5 per cent of applicants to the university opted to study at St Mary's last year. But people soon get to love it here. They get really upset when it is time to leave.

The senate has also decided to give 30 undergraduate places to students from other colleges during this three-year period, which means that male students might be able to live in St Mary's. Our ballot will assess whether the students are happy with this compromise. Whatever the outcome is, I hope the university will take our views seriously.

Although St Mary's needs a new image - the college brochure is full of puffy ballgowns - we don't need men in the college. We have five male postgraduate students, but even they dress up as girls for drama productions.

Girls have a harder time getting voted onto executive committees in other colleges, even if they perform really well at hustings. But that kind of thing can't happen at St Mary's - the good thing is that all activities have to be done by girls.

An all-girl college has an atmosphere all of its own. It would be hard to go to breakfast in your pyjamas, with panda eyes from the night before, at a mixed hall of residence. There is also a real sense of team spirit, which helps people to come out of their shells.

I am not a radical feminist, but because there are so many opportunities for girls to excel here, I will go out into the world with the attitude that women and men are equal.

* Interview by Jennifer Currie

Are women-only colleges an anachronism in the 21st century?

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