In 1857 women didn’t have many options. They couldn’t vote, they couldn’t own property, and you hardly, if ever, heard of a woman having an education that went further than finishing school. The best most women could hope for was to marry well. Then one day in 1857, a far-sighted gentleman decided to give ten thousand dollars and eight acres of land for the education of women. For 154 years Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been doing just that, educating women, until an announcement was made on July 21 that the school was going to become coeducational and the name would change to William Peace University.
Since the announcement, debate and controversy have ensued, but not for the reason some might think. While Peace is a private college, the board of trustees and the president are not required to discuss or review proposed changes with the student body, the alumnae, or even the faculty, so the announcement was made without prior knowledge to anyone, save the board and the current president. In fact, as early as January of this year, the board had announced that going coed was not even on the table, let alone a name change. Oh yeah, then there is all the business about complete course studies being done away with and tenured professors being forced out. So I guess you could say that an entire community was sucker punched and expected not to exhale.
Critics came out of the woodwork, making statements about the women who protested the change. (Although most were protesting the way the change was brought about and announced.) The comments ranged from: “men haters, left wing feminists, these are the same types of women who complain about so called glass ceilings,” and, “just go get your husband’s wallet.” Holy 1950’s, Batman! What year are we living in? There was the one who wrote: “You wanted the Equal Rights Amendment, you got it, now suck it up.” (Now that’s just plain silly. Only 35 of the necessary 38 states have ratified the ERA. When three more states vote yes, only then would it be possible that the ERA could be the 28th amendment.) These critics missed the point entirely. The dissent has everything to do with a lack of communication and preserving the history and integrity of a place that many called home for a time. You wouldn’t change the name of your home would you? A rose by any other name would, quite simply, no longer be a rose.
You see, I attended Peace College and it holds more than special memories for me. When I went there it was a community of women who learned together and grew into womanhood together. When I wrote “A Journey of Peace” this month, it was to share my history. Mine is just one little story out of the many that found a place to become. But the great “they” have already decided to change the history that I knew. On the college website they have reworked Peace’s history. Where it used to say “Peace College has a long tradition of providing education to women,” it now says “Peace has a long tradition of providing education.” Gone is the initial statement that once said William Peace provided the land and money for the continued education of women. The final sentence of that web page used to say “Peace College enjoys a reputation of providing women a unique environment…” and now says: “Today Peace College enjoys a reputation of providing a unique environment.” I used to love history; I just didn’t realize it could be so easily rewritten.