Summer on Dana Hall’s campus has a very distinct sound. The loudest of them all is the sound of the approximately 500 campers who cheer and chant wherever they go at decibels far above the norm for the school year. The location of my office in the English wing, slightly off the beaten path of the camp, means that I tend to hear fewer of the high-pitched, joyous screams of 4 to 10 year-olds than others, and I can’t say I’m sorry for that. Instead, the classrooms around my office are home in the summer to the same age group of students as they are during the school year: high schoolers. The sounds coming from those classrooms are the sounds of my summer, but they are nothing like sounds of my fall, winter, and spring. The difference? The summer academic program using our classrooms is coed. Although I see just as many young women walking into the classrooms as I see young men, what I hear each day are the voices of the boys– polite, thoughtful, and engaged, yes– but voices that rise above those of the girls in the class. I hear the nervous laughter of a girl as she asks a question, and the addition of, “I mean, I’m probably wrong; nevermind,” to the end of her sentence when another girl answers one. I hear boys talking over each other, and a teacher silencing them in order to call on a girl with a raised hand. My summer sounds like boys taking center stage, and girls fading into the background.
The dominance of male voices and female equivocation is not how my school year sounds. My school year in the English wing sounds like girls using a feminist theory lens to analyze The Great Gatsby, dissecting issues of gender and class in A Doll’s House, discussing contemporary applications of W.E.B DuBois’s theory of double-consciousness, and arguing over whether Roy Cohn is a sympathetic character in Angels in America. My school year sounds like girls set free from stereotypes and the pressures of co-ed learning environments and consequently given the space to be intellectual powerhouses. Our school mission expresses our commitment to preparing girls for “the challenges and choices they will face as women and citizens of the world,” and we certainly bring forth that mission in big-picture ways throughout the school year. But the smallest and most important way in which we bring our mission to life is through classrooms that recognize who girls are and then focus on what they need.
And so, while I enjoy summer days as much as the next person, every summer I long for the sound that lets me know the fall is here again — girls with something to say and classrooms that provide them with the space to do so in loud, bold voices. It’s the beautiful, sweet sound of an all-girls education.