My name is Kay (“Hello, Kay”) and I was oppressed for four years of my life by being forced to endure a same-sex dorm. No matter that I chose this college for the very reason it had same sex dorms — those persons wishing to sue Catholic University of America for sexism because of CUA’s decision to go back to same sex dorms must be right. I am pretty darn sure I can now sue Franciscan University of Steubenville for the suffering that is with me each and every day. Allow me to explain the horror.
I spent my formative years being raised in the presence of a large number of boys (brothers). One brother put it to me this way: “Kay, it is like Tarzan. You ain’t one of us but we are gonna raise you like one of us. Your future husband will love the fact you can watch a football game and not ask stupid questions; you can throw a baseball; you can belch with the best of them; and you don’t waste a bunch of time plastering goop all over your face. You can thank us later.” However impressive these life skills are I suspected, by age 18, they were not the sum total of womanhood.
I found out about, applied to, was accepted at and received exactly enough financial aid to attend FUS within a space of about three months during my senior year of high school. Not having the funds to visit the school, I was going over a thousand miles away from home to a college I knew three things about: 1. FUS actually advertised as an orthodox Catholic college (no joke!). 2. They had same sex dorms. 3. Every single person attending was planning to be either a priest or religious sister (I could only assume that given they were so obvious about being faithful to the Magisterium).
As my Dad’s green and gold Suburban hefted up that giant hill in Ohio I hoped that no one would realize I was just there for a solid Catholic education. I knew my vocation. Long had I planned on filling up my Ford Country Squire station wagon with a passel full of Irish kiddos. This had to be where religious vocations came to bloom. My plan was to sneak under the radar… let them think I thought I had a religious vocation, then I could tell them God told me otherwise on graduation day. A girl has to be resourceful to get a faithful Catholic education. I was pretty sure I could pull this off.
A swarm of young men in purple t-shirts surrounded our truck in front of Marian Hall. Opening doors they greeted us and began unloading items, taking them to my dorm room and escorting me as they went. After the first round of unloading my mother watched in awe as they went out front to get the rest, staring at them through the 1st floor window she said suspiciously, “I thought you said that all these guys were going to be priests at this school.” As stunned as she was I replied, “You know the saying, Mom… God gets the best, we get the rest.”
Okay, so maybe all the guys were not going to be priests! If they were, then there would be NO vocations crisis. It was entirely possible my mind overreacted a bit. I had never been in a truly Catholic environment, outside of my home, in my entire life. Cut me some slack. I still had the girls to deal with.
Mary was my roommate — she seemed the serious type but I sensed some goofiness as we talked more. I was weird, so this might work. Jen — well, I avoided her for a long while. She was petite and polite and quiet. She’d definitely not like a loud mouth Irish woman. Angie — I was afraid of her. Her clothes matched, she had more than three pair of shoes, plus she had great hair. Elaine — she was a pretty blond girl who kept being nice to me for some odd reason; she also knew how to wear make-up. After a few weeks I realized that most of the girls on campus were not headed for religious life. Finally, I had something in common with the women around me!
It took a little time but the shock of going from a house full of boys to a dorm full of women began to wear off. And the benefits of having “sisters” soon began to show. There are valuable life lessons a girl does not get from her big brothers. Some examples:
Getting ready for Mass one Sunday I was brushing my hair in the ladies bathroom when another girl came in and gasped at me, “You are not wearing that hair clip with that outfit are you? Come with me.” She commanded and took my hand as she led me to her room.
She opened a trunk that stood on end, it was full of little drawers holding clips, barretts, ribbons, snoods, hair bands, bandanas, scrunchies and head bands…. every hair accessory known to womankind was in that trunk. Looking me over in my teal plaid kilt and teal sweater, she decisively picked out the proper hair clip and sent me on my way. I was baffled. Before meeting her I was impressed with myself for just being able to get my panty hose on, but now I had great hair, too!
When I was asked to a Christmas formal Elaine called as I was getting ready. “What color eye shadow are you wearing?” She wondered. Well, I hadn’t planned on wearing any since I didn’t own any and didn’t really know how to apply it anyway. “I’ll be right there!” Within minutes she arrived with her Caboodle of make-up and opened it like an EMT at a crash site. She assessed my facial features, debated between shades due to the color of my dress then got to work. Within minutes I had various shades of cinnamon on my eye lids and mascara on as well.
Did you know there are different names for different kinds of dress shoes for women? I had no idea! Pumps, wedge, heels, slide, slingback…. sounded like a new dance to me. And undergarments! Come on! Thank Heaven for Angie introducing me to Hanes Her Way. That, in itself, was worth 4 years of college. And what the heck was fabric softener? Did you know that if you buy control top pantyhose they are less likely to slide down to your ankles? There are shampoos other than Suave. My “never been touched outside of trimming” bangs felt the power of highly charged hair spray.
This does not even touch on accessorizing! I lived in jeans and t-shirts since birth, for variety I threw in paisley Bermuda shorts with hot pink long johns and peach converse high tops (only during the winter and only for special occasions). At the time I was only wanted in two states by the Fashion Police (now its six). Modesty I got, being in style? Not so much.
Senior year, as interviews loomed, I worried about what I would wear as I cataloged my very limited wardrobe. How do I pull it all together? Call Elaine – the woman could have her own reality TV show making over peoples closets with what is in their closet. It is called being grateful for what you have and making do (very Franciscan). My dress shoes being especially worn she let me borrow hers. That brings up another thing women do: borrow clothing. The closest thing I had ever done was steal my brothers Toughskins.
And how did the tomboy fare in intra-mural sports? Well, she got her backside kicked all over the playing fields and courts at FUS — by other Catholic women. Turns out she wasn’t half as tough as she imagined herself to be. After my first play in flag football I lay on my back staring at the sky and trying like heck to take a deep breath. An upperclassman stood over me and offered her hand. She was the one who had just tossed me aside like a couch pillow. “You, okay Freshman?” She asked as she pulled me up. Still trying to breathe I replied quietly, “Yeah….but I think my kids are going to get skim milk because of you.” My chest was killing me! The next year, I was on her team. If you can’t beat ‘em, join their team .
Mary was my first best bud on campus. Elaine, converting while she was in college, taught me to appreciate the faith I so often took for granted. Jen showed me the power of daily prayer. Angie was an example of fun, faith and fashion — those can and do go together! Stacy put up with me for two years as her roommate; she taught me to think of others and appreciate the fun stuff in life. Sandy showed me you can’t grow up overnight; it takes a lot of prayer, effort and patience. With good friends your faults are obvious and the work ahead is clear: seek to be what you most admire in them.
My teammates? Well, they taught me that a woman’s greatest strength has little to do with her physical abilities. Can you give up yourself—and your selfishness — to join a team? Do you have to be the big shot or can you just be the regular working stiff? Learning to be good can be more valuable than possessing natural talent. Can you risk looking stupid in the attempt to taste victory? If no one else can or will lead, will you? Anyone can sprint — can you give 100% in the last 5 minutes of an ultimate Frisbee playoff game after hauling your backside up and down a field for an hour? Endurance matters!
Same sex-dorms, with rules designed to protect the virtue of all within, allow a natural part of growing up to blossom. Taking that pressure off of young people, they are now free to focus on growing up and developing healthy and holy friendships. Our sex obsessed culture has lost the ability to teach our young to build these friendships that not only stand the test of time but may kick our sorry butts into Heaven as well. Those friendships — built up while living together, sharing, loving unconditionally, arguing and forgiving — teach powerful life lessons that we miss when the opportunity is not given.
To quote from a chastity talk (then FUS president) Fr. Mike Scanlon gave to freshmen: “If you do not have healthy, holy, inter-dependent relationships with people of your same sex, you are not ready to date.” If you are so focused on boys or distracted by their constant presence you have not the free time, or maybe even the inclination, to build those friendships. And you miss the gift of having those friends build you.
Life is tough. We need friends who can challenge us with such charity that we thank them for the experience. Friends that witness the beauty and strength that comes with listening instead of talking. Ladies who know that there is no sin in being fashion impaired but neither is their virtue in looking like a ding-dong when being presentable is expected. Women who share their God given abilities with kindness, yet take care not to offend those who are not as gifted. Reaching out to someone who appears to be a polar opposite, to find you have another kindred spirit. Friends who love you where you are but love you enough not to leave you there! They see more than what you are, they see what you can be.
When I came to FUS I had never enjoyed the friendship of other Catholic/Christian women. I graduated with more friends than I could count. The jump from a house full of boys to a dorm full of girls was a double blessing: one gave me practical life lessons, the other showed me how to live those lessons as a woman and, eventually, as a wife and mother. I needed both.
My nine year old daughter begs me to give her a sister every single day, twice a day. I tell her that if God does not provide her a little sister, He will surely provide her with a couple hundred in college. That lawsuit should just about cover the cost of sending my daughter to FUS so that she, too, can experience the oppression and overt sexism I endured for four wonderful years.
(If anyone from Admissions at FUS is reading this I am more than happy to settle out of court for an undisclosed full tuition….oh, sorry…I meant undisclosed amount of money).