The Coordinate Colleges: Richmond College and Westhampton College
The University of Richmond’s coordinate college system is distinctive in American higher education. Students at the University belong to one of the two Colleges: Richmond College for men and Westhampton College for women. Richmond and Westhampton Colleges are uniquely positioned to encourage students to think about gender as a construct, examining how gender has affected their lives, how they may challenge limitations posed by gender, and how gender intersects with other identities.
A Brief History
In 1840, Richmond College was established as a liberal arts institution for undergraduate men. Westhampton College opened alongside Richmond College in 1914 to form “two co-ordinate colleges of liberal arts, one for men and one for women…of equal grade, and having similar courses of instruction.” The Colleges along with the Law School became the University of Richmond in 1920, but remained “entirely separate and distinct in campus, instruction, and institutional life” until the 1970’s, when the academic missions of the Colleges began the process of merging.
When the School of Arts & Sciences was created in 1991, President Richard Morrill and the Board of Trustees affirmed the coordinate college system “as a central dimension of the institution’s undergraduate residential, student life, and educational program,” citing a sense of community, integration of living and learning experiences, the leadership roles of the deans and student governments, and the linkage of identity through time as major benefits of the Colleges.
Today, the Colleges are central to the academic and co-curricular success of the University’s undergraduate students. The deans hold joint appointments as Associate Deans of Arts & Sciences, linking their work to the academic mission of the University. By recognizing the intersectionality of students’ academic work, cocurricular experiences, and personal identity development, the deans’ offices provide a strong foundation of support for undergraduate students at the University.
Gender as a Social Construct
Gender (e.g., masculinity and femininity) is a learned behavior: Each of us learns what it means to be a gendered being from the society around us. There are many different ways to “perform” gender, and some ways are prioritized through culture, context, structures, and interactions. While the University’s coordinate colleges approach student development with respect to masculine and feminine gender identities, the deans’ staffs work to ensure that every student has the space to express their authentic self.
Different Approaches, Common Goal
Both Westhampton College and Richmond College provide support and resources to help their students engage, persist, and succeed in the classroom, on campus and in life. While differences exist in some approaches, programs, and traditions used by each college, their common purpose is to live up to the University’s goal of providing a student experience unlike any other.
The ability of the deans’ staffs to advise and mentor students while considering the impact of gender is a major strength of the Colleges. Students benefit from interactions with the deans’ staffs in a variety of ways, including academic and personal counseling, leadership opportunities, First Year Living-Learning Programs, and student employment experiences with the deans’ offices. This involvement helps students understand the totality of campus life and prepares them for leadership positions in their professional and civic lives after graduation.
Morrill, R.L. (1991). Considerations Related to the Coordinate College Study. Report issued to the University Community, January 11, 1991.
Richmond College (1914). The New Richmond College…A Brief Sketch of Organization, Course of Study, and Material Equipment of the Colleges of the Liberal Arts. Acquired from Boatwright Library Digital Collection For the Centuries, http://centuries.richmond.edu/items/show/612.