- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

AURORA, N.Y. (AP) — A group of students at Wells College says it is defending tradition and the democratic process by protesting the single-sex school’s decision to go coed.

School officials expected students to react emotionally, and said they hoped the protests would subside as students begin to accept the inevitable.

But the students said they are ready for the long haul in their battle to keep the 136-year-old college, established by Wells Fargo founder Henry Wells, from including men. They will continue their siege of the school’s administration building until trustees relent, they said.

“They keep saying this is a quick reaction, and in a couple of days it will all quiet down and we will go away,” said senior Michelle Carr.

“They couldn’t be more wrong. We’ve been here since Saturday. We will be here until they change their mind,” said Rachel Porter, a junior.

There are now fewer than 60 women’s colleges in the country, half of them Catholic schools, said Leslie Miller-Bernal, a Wells sociology professor who has written books on single-sex colleges. As recently as 1980, there were more than 120 women’s colleges in the country.

On Monday, up to 150 Wells students — nearly half of the school — marched, sang, chanted and waved signs outside President Lisa Marsh Ryerson’s office. On the front lawn, students had set up more than a dozen tents for sleeping and a large screened tent stocked with food and drinks. A big banner reading “Save Our Sisterhood” was draped from the roof.

At one point, protesters stood on the building’s front steps chanting back-and-forth with a smaller group on the lawn: “Tell me what a Wells’ kid looks like: I am what a Wells’ kid looks like.”

Miss Carr and Miss Porter said protesters were keeping up with schoolwork but not attending classes.

On Saturday, trustees agreed to admit male students in 2005 to Wells, located on a hillside overlooking Cayuga Lake about 35 miles southwest of Syracuse. For nearly two decades, Wells has been unable to stimulate enrollment beyond the 400-student level, despite intensive recruitment techniques and strong student financial aid programs, said Ann Rollo, vice president for external affairs.

In 1999, Wells even tried reducing tuition by 30 percent to attract more students. It costs about $22,000 for tuition and room and board. Wells has 302 full-time students and about 90 commuters. The school wants 450 full-time students. The college’s peak enrollment was 631 in 1969.

Miss Rollo said the school is not in a financial crisis, but clearly needs to gain enrollment.

“Growing enrollment is the only way to preserve the other highly valued aspects of a Wells education: small classes, limitless opportunities for participation, developing leadership,” she said.

Other schools that have gone coed have found that not only did they gain male students, but they also attracted more female students looking for a coed experience, Miss Rollo said.

She said the school is taking other steps to increase enrollment. It plans to expand its off-campus and study-abroad programs, establish a summer book arts institute and offer a master’s degree program in education.

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