Saturday, July 30, 2011

Celebrating 154 Years of Tradition: Peace College

The famed fountain
I interrupt this regularly scheduled book blog to call attention to an issue that is weighing heavily on my heart.  I am a proud alumna of Peace College in Raleigh, NC and was shocked and outraged to discover that my beloved institution, whose mission for 154 years has been to offer women the highest quality educational and professional opportunities, has announced that it will become a co-ed "university."

Main Building (the tiny figure in
the wedding dress is me!)
Peace College was founded in 1857 when William Peace, a member of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Raleigh, donated $10,000 dollars and a parcel of land to establish an institution dedicated to women's education.  Like most colleges, Peace has not been immune to change throughout the years.  Used briefly as a hospital during the Civil War, what began as a junior college started offering bachelor degrees in 1995.  Throughout its entire history, Peace has been a leader in offering women educational and professional opportunities that traditional co-ed universities did not provide.  Peace focused on individualized education, cultivated professional relationships with businesses in all sectors of Raleigh through internships, and enhanced the cultural awareness of her students through study abroad programs.  The recent changes to the college, from its name to its educational mission, arrive on the heels of changes that have already rocked the foundation of Peace such as removing prominent faculty members and eliminating established majors and programs.

I entered Peace College, a wide-eyed and naive freshman straight from a tiny, podunk high school, in the fall of 2005.  Since my high-school graduating class was made up of twenty-eight students, thirteen of whom I had known from kindergarten, Peace seemed like a vast resource of knowledge, professors, and fellow students that I couldn't wait to tap, and I was not disappointed by what I found there.  Although over time its vastness was diminished in  my eyes, this freshman preconception was replaced with a more important and lasting fact - Peace was a community, a sisterhood where students and professors encouraged each other's growth as leaders.  I was challenged from my very first to my very last moment on campus to think critically and assert myself and my ideas confidently.

Proudly displaying my diploma
I graduated from Peace in 2008 and entered North Carolina State University as a graduate student in their English Literature program.  If I ever doubted that Peace was the right place for me as an undergraduate, those doubts were dispelled the moment I set foot on N. C. State's campus.  The classes were challenging and engaging, but it lacked the feeling of camaraderie and communal learning that I so treasured at Peace.  I was fortunate enough to be offered a teaching assistantship while I was at N. C. State, but opportunities like this are few and far between.  At Peace, I was involved in every sector of the college campus.  I was co-editor of the Prism, Peace's literary magazine; I pioneered one of the first teaching internships in the English department; I helped lead several chapel services under Rev. Tara Woodard-Lehman; I toured Europe with the Peace College Chamber Singers; I spent hours reminiscing with alumnae and soliciting donations for the Loyalty Fund; I attended basketball games to support one of my suitemates who was a member of the team; I presented a paper at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Salisbury, Maryland, which was published in the conference proceedings.  If I had not had the support and encouragement of my Peace professors, especially those in the English and Music departments, I never would have had the confidence to pursue these endeavors, and what's more, I succeeded at them.  N. C. State is a fine institution of higher education, but the same educational and professional opportunities were not extended to me, and although I successfully completed a teaching assistantship, which directly prepared me for my current profession as a full-time instructor of English at Nash Community College, and presented papers at two conferences while a student at State, I had to go after these opportunities on my own.  If it had not been for my education at Peace, which fostered self-confidence and intrinsic motivation, I would not have had the aplomb to chase these opportunities unprompted.

It's customary for graduates to toss roses into the fountain.
The Women's College Coalition has published much research on the benefits of attending an all women's college on their website,  The benefits they highlight can be summed up by my experiences listed above.  The opportunities for women at a women's college are numerous, and they are encouraged to seek and explore them all.  Perhaps most importantly though, women's colleges encourage their students to embark on a journey of self-discovery.  Historically, women have been discriminated against and told to be ashamed of their intelligence, creativity, and successes.  Taking a college that has traditionally celebrated the achievements of women and opening it to men does not foster equality but encroaches upon the space that we women have carved out for ourselves where we are free to explore educational, cultural, and professional opportunities uninhibited.  Peace College is losing the essence of itself, and now has little to distinguish it from its nearby university competitors.
My best friend wore my robe!
As many of my fellow alumnae have already indicated, we are more so upset about the lack of communication and the secrecy that surrounded this change.  The strength of a liberal arts education is that it teaches people how to communicate effectively with others and be aware of their audience.  The President and the Board of Trustees deliberately flaunted this educational foundation by avoiding an open and honest discussion with the people the change would affect the most: Peace alumnae, current students, and faculty.  This has now become a battle of words, and the name change from Peace College to William Peace University further disassociates alumnae, current students, and faculty from the college they have served, attended, and loved. None of us are so naive as to think that change is avoidable, and as President Townsley pointed out in her webinar on Wednesday, July 27, Peace College has been through several changes already in her 154 year history.  She began as Peace Institute, a school that educated girls beginning in kindergarten, morphed into a high school and then a junior college, before finally becoming the four-year baccalaureate institute it is known as today.  However, during this time, it never wavered from its mission to "challenge women to an adventure of intellectual and personal discovery, preparing them for graduate and lifelong learning, for meaningful careers, and for ethical lives of purpose, leadership and service."  To become a co-educational university would mean desecrating the original legacy and mission of the college, of which women were the focus and recipients.  These changes, to paraphrase another alumna, are not merely an adaption to the current economic climate, but a reinvention of 154 year legacy and tradition, and in only a year's time!  As the daughter and granddaughter of teachers and a teacher myself, I can say with certainty that viable, quality curriculum change on this scale in the space of one year is virtually impossible.  A more appropriate timetable might have garnered the support of more alumnae. 

Photo in the fountain
However saddened I am by the changes, and believe me, I am deeply distraught, I do think that this tragedy has proven Peace College's success in creating strong, outspoken women who band together to fight, organize, and stand up for what they believe in.  And that is a legacy I am proud to carry on. 


  1. Thank you for writing this post. Brilliantly done. Tears in my eyes, strength in my soul!

  2. Great post Kristin! Very beautifully written! I am proud to know you and honored to call you a Peace sister!