Austen Crowder

Inside baseball: The all-male college "gay problem"

Filed By Austen Crowder | October 23, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: crossdressing, free market, Morehouse College

Okay, I have two confessions to make.

morehouse.gifOne, I went to one of the two remaining all-male colleges left in the country, Wabash College. (I know of exactly one other alumna from my alma mater: you may know her already.) You may have heard of the other all-male college on the pages of Bilerico.

Two: I am a fiscal conservative at heart, and believe that the free market must be allowed to work itself out in situations where consumer participation is voluntary. (Yes, I am that kind of duck-billed platypus of a liberal.)

Single-sex colleges are, by necessity, private institutions. Wally-for-SID.jpgThe discrimination inherent in the application process necessarily precludes them from being given federal funds. Because of this they rely heavily on alumni donations, endowments, and student tuition to function and survive. This, in turn, makes the colleges extremely image-conscious, going to great lengths to define the climate, ambiance, and quality of education that's given at the school.

To be honest, one of the largest image issues for an all-male college is being seen as a "gay school"; it can be a detrimental image to the larger population. The college's response is really a reflection of the college values - in itself an act of branding. With these qualifiers in mind, I want to talk a little inside baseball about this Morehouse College crossdressing issue.

First, a bit of straight talk. These two institutions are hanging on for dear life in a tumultuous economy. I get e-mails from Wabash about once a week asking for donations. Morehouse is responding to something they perceive as both an image issue and a roadblock for further donations: in that regard, their response is justified. It defines them as a "strict" school that takes young boys and returns qualified, professional men. The strict dress code was explained as such by a member of the college I met a few years ago.

Wabash is not immune to this issue. As an institution, it has recently dealt with outside perceptions of being a "school for homosexuals." This is not so much a commentary on the school as it is an observation of the social climate: people see an all-male school and say "well, if there are no women there, the guys must be gay." I know I got ribbed at my high school for deciding to go to Wabash, especially in the "Dude, you must be gay" department. The college's response to this perception is vital; failure to deal with it properly could lead to reduced enrollment, which can doom a privately-funded single-sex institution.

Wabash chooses a "hands-off" approach to dealing with perceptions that it is a school for gay people. They do not hide the fact that GBT people exist on campus. They also do not attempt to separate themselves from these GBT perceptions; instead, they respond by challenging people to see the college for themselves. Wabash men will often respond to the "isn't that a gay college?" assertion with a straightforward response, something to the tune of, "Say what you want: I'm getting a good education. Too bad you don't see it the same way."

The difference between Morehouse's and Wabash's response reflects the differences between their school philosophies. Where Morehouse breeds upstanding, professional men, Wabash prizes individual responsibility and critical thinking as most vital to the college experience. Where Morehouse places strict codes of behavior upon its students, Wabash gives only one rule, relying on students to take responsibility for their own actions, as well as the actions of their classmates.

At this point, the conservative must creep out from under the bed to say that both colleges have the freedom to respond to this question in the way they see fit. Since they're self-sufficient institutions, free of government educational regulation, they are free to define their student body in the way they see fit. Yes, I do not agree with Moorehouse's decision to outlaw crossdressing on campus, but it is their right to do so. They believe that this provision will help the campus image: if it does, more power to them. The very survival of a single-sex institution relies on pushing an image of the "College Man" or "College Woman" - they must convince both students and parents that signing up for sex segregation will be better than no sex segregation.

Morehouse has made its bed, and now it must lay down in it. It is our job to make their image suffer for their decision by making their rule changes known to everyone. If we're lucky, application numbers will decrease as a result of the policy; perhaps up-and-coming students are as progressive as we hope they may be, see the policy as a moral injustice, and choose a different college instead.

Freedom to define your college population brings with it the freedom to fail. The Invisible Hand giveth, the Invisible Hand taketh away.

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I agree they have a right... Its merely disappointing.

The problem is they are advertising as creating a product of future leaders, but the truth is they are creating "Has Been" leaders in that more and more businesses have created a culture of Inclusion, which the future graduates of Morehouse College will NOT be in a position to accept. The graduates will be behind the learning curve of graduates from other colleges and universities.

And when you consider the likes of MLK Jr., If I remember correctly, his wife has said the MLK Jr. would be a big supported of LGBT Rights if he were alive today. Which indicates that Morehouse is no longer capable of turning out the likes of MLK Jr.

Morehouse should have said, "If you are going to dress like a woman, then you must dress like a business woman."


I agree that the government should not get involved in policing how an institution designs it's image. However, once it gets to the point of discrimination, isn't that what non-discrimination laws are for? Should country clubs be allowed to only accept white men so long as they remain financially stable?

I understand that certain uses of discrimination are deemed okay (such as sex segregated schools or bona fide occupational qualifications), but the laws are more then just about accepting federal grants. My corner store would not be allowed to put up a "whites only" sign, even though they don't take any federal grants either. Considering that gender identity non-discrimination is one of the goals we're fighting for, what's the difference?

You bring up a good point here: at what point is discrimination justified, and at what point is it illegal?

I forget the precise clauses involved in discrimination law, but I do know that certain institutions are allowed to discriminate based on tradition or the degree of privacy they maintain. This means that the precise nature of the law s always in flux: as a simple example, St. Elmo's Steakhouse in Indianapolis maintains a tradition of hiring only men as waiters. The place is both old enough to predate sex discrimination laws, and claims that male waiters are a prerequisite of maintaining their old-world charm.

Gender identity at a single-sex institution gets _very_ messy. (Trust me, I ran through the scenarios during my tenure at Wabash.) Any actual legal movement toward being accepted as female would, by default, make you no longer eligable for the school. As a trans person, I'm simultaneously saddened by this idea, and understanding that they can't make that kind of exception if they wish to mainain their all-male creed.

I haven't mentioned the Morehouse rule in this conversation: it, in many ways, restricts the free-speech rights of students. (What if one of the kids performed drag every month at a local club, for example>?) However Morehouse has always impinged upon the freedoms of their students, restricting many other types of clothing in an attempt to create business-professional men. The guys going to that college voluntarily sign a wavier stating that they agree to abide by these rules.

This case does bring up a glaring exception, as students are already knee-deep in classes and cann't exactly decide to stop going to Morehouse without significant financial harm. (This means nothing if the contract also contained a clause stating that administration withheld the right to change the contract.) Even still we would have no legal recourse due to the reasons mentioned above: tradition and grandfather clauses.

I hate the Morehouse crossdressing policy, and I want to see it removed as soon as possible. Unfortunately, since we aren't donation-making alumni, I don't think we can do much more than blow whistles and hope for their good graces to prevail.

Aren't there still universities/colleges that are women-only?

Yes, there are actually quite a few female colleges. All-male colleges became integrated single-sex institutions as feminism pushed for more equality in education. (Hard to get numbers when you're seen as a sexiist college; its an image problem that all-female colleges didn't have to deal with. They are seen as "empowering.") Its too bad, too: numerous educational studies have shown that single-sex educational environments correlate with some good performance factors.

(Ironically, I'm a _huge_ fan of my Alma Mater. ;) )

Hampden Sydney College in Farmville, VA is all male.