Monday, July 25, 2011

William Peace University? I'll be damned!

When I escaped high school with a diploma in hand, I was the proverbial blank slate.  I had murky thoughts as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I certainly had zero thoughts as to how to bring said nebulous goals to fruition. 

I attended an institution that encouraged me to stand up for myself, speak my mind and to not be afraid.  The institution taught me that my opinion was just as good as a man’s opinion (if not better) and it provided an atmosphere where I could discover who I was and what I really believed while surrounded by supportive sisters and female professors.  Thanks in large part to that institution, I was able to enroll my junior and senior years at UNC-Chapel Hill, believing in myself and refusing to drown in the nameless, faceless bodies of the enormous university. 

That institution was Peace College and it breaks my heart into millions of pieces that this might be the last time I will ever be able to say that with pride. 

For well over 100 years, Peace College championed the cause of women, even in when no one else did.  It provided a secure environment for the learning and growth of young women who were fortunate enough to attend. 

Of course, the college had to gradually change with the times in order to stay viable with the ever-relaxing rules of the decades. 

When I attended Peace, men weren’t allowed in the dorms.  On very rare occasions—and with the knowledge and consent of the house mothers—fathers and brothers of students were allowed up with their presence requiring their daughter or sister to bellow, “MAN ON THE HALL!  MAN ON THE HALL!” in warning to the other hall residents.  Boys were allowed to visit, but they were only allowed on campus at certain times and in certain public be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really worth the trouble. 

With the strong allure of N.C. State’s Fraternity Row in mind, Freshmen had curfews for the first semester and those curfews could only be lifted with good fall term grades.  We had to sign out and sign back in—even if we were going home for the weekend.  After the curfew lift, most Peace Ladies had fun with decorum because we were trained well. 

Peace Ladies were also required to attend Chapel once a week with services on Wednesdays and Fridays.  We put on our Sunday best and spent one hour sitting in a pew during service.  The services were very lovely and subdued I assure you that no one ever tried to pass me a snake.  Actually, I got to where I quite enjoyed Chapel because it was a place where I could sit and reflect.

Graduation from Peace College was one of the most special events in a student’s life.  Every girl donned white ball gowns and gloves and carried a bouquet of red roses.  When the graduation ceremony was complete, the ladies circled the fountain in front of Main, sang the Alma Mater and threw one of their red roses in the fountain. 

Boys allowed in dorm rooms, no Chapel, no curfew and all of the magic and tradition sucked out of graduation:  Yes, there have been so very many changes at Peace.  I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that we Alumni were thrilled about the aimless slashing and burning of 154 years of successful philosophy and beloved tradition, but we were able to find peace (pun intended) with the changes when the alternative was closing the college.

Now, this new “President” Debra Townsley has put a bullet in the heart of the school.  With only a year on the job, she has opted for the “dumbass and lazy” option of admitting men without looking for and implementing every alternative possible.  Her ineptitude has put Peace in a very sticky wicket:  What man is going to want to attend a school that has been known for the exclusive education of females for 154 years?  If a female can’t have a girls’ school at Peace, there are certainly more attractive co-ed options and if she persists in her search of a girls’ school, she only has to go down Hillsborough Street to Meredith. 

Maybe Townsley doesn’t get it—she did come from Pennsylvania after all and that’s the only thing I can surmise with regard to her categorical negligence and blatant disrespect of Southern tradition. 

Regardless of whatever useless excuse she might proffer, nothing will change the fact that she told a bold faced lie to Alumni.  In January, we asked the college if they were going to resort to letting men enroll at Peace, to which she answered with an emphatic “no.” 

Since the news broke on WRAL on Thursday (yes, that’s how the Alumni found out), I have been beside myself.  If it hadn’t been for Peace, I sincerely doubt that I would have had the courage to go to law school.  If it hadn’t been for Peace, I never would have met my best friends in the world.  Good Lord, if it hadn’t been for Peace, I never would have met my husband.  I have Peace College to thank for who I am today.

My Peace friends and I all had daughters and we had every intention of sending them to Peace.  My heart breaks when I look at my two Baby Belles and realize the amazing experience they might miss out on.

Many of the Alumni gathered around the fountain on Sunday afternoon in protest of the ill-conceived and absurd co-ed idea.  When I first heard about the gathering, I didn’t want to go.  The last time I was at Peace, I took Baby Belle 1 (about 4 at the time) with me to show her where she was going to school.  We laughed and I took pictures of her at the fountain.  I decided that I wanted that day to be my last memory of Peace because it was happy and full of hope—just like my time there as a student.  No, I didn’t want to go and say a despondent goodbye to the magical place before Townsley put it in the wood chipper.  I was emotional enough as it was.

It took one of my best friends (who lived next door to me in Davidson dorm) who can pack more guilt in one little finger than an army of Catholic mothers to change my mind.  I am so glad that she did.  What I thought was going to be a miserable farewell turned out to be a heart-felt “Hell No” instead.  I should have guessed that Peace Girls wouldn’t take this travesty lying down.

The administration of Peace College is going to face hundreds—maybe thousands—of Peace Girls ready to defend their beloved school.  Yes, Peace taught us to stand up and fight for what is right and we’re going to do just that.  Ain’t irony a bitch?


  1. Amen Sister! I'm class of 2004. :)

  2. I love it, I love it, I love it!!! Amen! Class of 1980.

  3. I too mourn for my 4 & 5 year old daughters. Our talks of future were never "if you go to college" or "when you go to college", but "when you go to Peace".

    I use to take them to campus and say "and when you come here, you might live here..." and "Mommy loved crunching acorns under her feet on the way to the library, I'm sure you'll find a peaceful place here that will be special to you too"

    Heather Thomas Davis class of 97

  4. i loved this! posted on my FB page. so well put!

  5. Love it!! You tell it sister!! Class of 2003 and Proud PEACE COLLEGE GIRL!!!! NOT. William Peace University!

  6. I love this and I feel exactly as you do! Keep them coming! The more you write, the more people can see when they google, PEACE COLLEGE! I graduated from PEACE COLLEGE, not WPU. Have you heard how that sounds just when you say it? Like you're saying something stinks, like trash, hey, that is what it stands for.

  7. c/o 09, and history maker at PEACE COLLEGE. I think this is well said & what many of us have wanted to say!!

  8. Thank you for your commentary and for going to Peace College to demonstrate. I remember all the traditions you mentioned, plus some very strict rules you wouldn't believe. I graduated in 1962 and went on to Longwood for a BA in 1964. Worked as a writer/editor for years before retiring. Longwood was a college for women-only, until the 1970's when they turned coed, which ruined the school's academic standing for a number of years. Obviously the best male students didn't want to attend a college that was traditionally for women. I hope WPU never happens.