Mount Carmel College turns co-ed: Students allege mismanagement

Students say they learnt about the decision of the college on social media. The management says campus safety won't be impacted.

The theme for Mount Carmel College’s Platinum Jubilee last year was ‘Herstory’. However, starting from this academic year, the college will not entirely be ‘hers’ since Mount Carmel, which has been a women’s college for 75 years, has opened admissions to boys.

Dr. Lekha George, principal of Mount Carmel College, says this decision was not taken overnight. “It was in discussion for a few years and the management took a call to start it this year.”

Mismanaged communication

The students have expressed disappointment over the way the announcement was made. “It was posted on social media, even before we, the students, knew about it,” says Aamina Azhar, Editor-in-Chief of The Carmel Beat (TCB), the monthly college newsletter. 

Dr. Lekha says that the student’s concerns will subside over time as they witness the college continuing to maintain the campus as a safe space. “We have empowered women for 75 years and now it’s time for us to empower youth and become more inclusive and diverse,” she says.

The students argue that if the management didn’t take their perspective into consideration and only made announcements on social media and in the press, they are uncertain about whether to trust the management in ensuring equality and safety on the campus. 

“We don’t have access to mobile network in the college, which is why when they announced it on social media, we did not even know and this shows the management’s irresponsibility,” says Divya, a student.

“Yes, we are worried about our safety. It is about how much action will the management take to resolve our problems. Observing their evasive behaviour towards the students, it becomes a little difficult to trust them,” says another student who requested anonymity. “Our parents quickly receive messages of our absence from classes. However, this big decision was not even informed to them, despite the management having the contact details of our parents,” says Avni Shetty, sub-editor of TCB. 

Also, within minutes of the announcement being made on social media, there were a few demeaning comments by some men, which the students were unhappy with.

College students in a classroom
Representative picture. Students say their perspective should have been taken into account. Pic: Wikipedia Commons/Venkateswaran Raman

College petition

Around 2,000 students have signed a petition demanding revoking the decision of the college turning co-educational. Some of the concerns are:

  • It is a breach of agreement as this decision is being implemented when the current batches are still on campus. Neither the parents’ nor the students’ consent was taken. They were also not appropriately informed
  • Threat to safety and security, referring to multiple instances of harassment and abuse during fests and how committees like the women’s cell, sexual harassment cell and grievance cell are currently inaccessible and unapproachable, which has to be resolved on priority
  • Apprehension of stringent dress code, students’ participation in college trips and fests, which may be restricted by parents citing safety concerns
  • The seats, which would otherwise be occupied by women, will now be open to men, which would affect the institution’s foundation and legacy

Read more: Coming up next: NEP in more than 800 non-autonomous colleges of Mumbai

Dhwani Dharamshi, sub-editor of TCB says that many students have studied in co-educational schools. “So it’s not that we are not familiar with diversity. However, there is this concept of the male gaze. As soon as we step out of the campus, men stare and glance at us. So, when you say that safety will not be compromised, how is that going to work? And how is it a decision for the management to make?”

Avni talks about last year’s independence day celebrations to cite an example: “Despite tight security that day, there were a few cases of our students being harassed. Our fear stems from instances like this. We can’t handle a two-day fest with a co-ed crowd without a few reported cases of abuse coming to our notice, how are we going to manage a similar crowd throughout the year?” 

Mount Carmel is going to be a University soon, and the decision to make it co-educational stems from this change of status. “There is no such rule that the college needs to be co-ed for it to become a University. There are plenty of all-girls Universities across the country,” contradicts Sravya Satpathy, Assistant Editor at TCB. 

Most students complain that every information about this decision they have received so far are either unclarified rumours or are from the media. “Even the teachers do not have clarity about this. Not a single stakeholder of this decision got a say in it,” says Pooja, another student. 

Professors take an optimistic view

Most of the Mount Carmel College professors believe that this decision will enable students’ holistic development and provide a new perspective. “If we are going to fight patriarchy, we need to factor in men’s perspective as well as enable men to see women’s perspective, which is possible only in a co-ed environment,” say a few professors. They say there should be an inclusive environment for women on campus.

Some contend that professors and non-teaching staff may require training to adapt to having boys on campus, while others say that as educators, their priority should be teaching without considering gender as a factor. 

They also express empathy with students’ apprehension and believe that it is quite natural for students to be sceptical of this change. They say the initial resistance will diminish once male students start classes and the women students will witness firsthand that the situation is not such a big deal. 

On the other hand, there are a few professors who are not as satisfied with the decision. They believe that this is not about diversity or gender equality, as the college is quite diverse. This decision raises different concerns about college culture. They believe that the opportunities for women might become more challenging once the transition occurs.

“There are exclusive spaces entirely meant for men. Why can’t women have their own spaces? Why does that have to be a gender equality conversation?” a few professors wonder. Since the management is going to build another campus in North Bengaluru, a few professors have said the new campus can be co-educational and keep the current campus as a women’s college.

Management assures students that the campus will be safe

“I ask my students, if they are so scared of a few boys coming to the campus, where is their confidence? And if they can’t embrace all genders, where is their compassion?” asks Dr. Lekha.   

The management affirms that there won’t be a sudden shift for students, as there will only be a small number of seats reserved for boys’ admission at the moment. “This apprehension will only be temporary and it’s completely understandable given the magnitude of the change. However, we will do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition,” Dr. Lekha adds. 

“It is the 21st century and I do not think that a segregated system of education will work well anymore. There is a need to build a healthy relationship between boys and girls. As a woman head of an institution, I’m sure we will be more sensitive towards the students,” says Suma Singh, Academic Registrar at Mount Carmel. 

The management says there will be a rigorous process of selection and only those boys who are passionate towards learning will be admitted. They also promise to strengthen a few committees like the sexual harassment committees and anti-ragging committees. 

The college has few PG courses open for men since 2016, this decision would include all undergraduate courses. “There are so many co-educational institutions functioning well in the city. We will learn from them and make sure we provide a safe and conducive learning environment for all genders,” affirms Dr. Lekha. 

Young reader’s survey by Citizen Matters

As per a survey conducted among young readers by Citizen Matters, 71.4% said they disagreed with the management’s decision to go co-educational while 28.6% agreed with the decision.

To the question of ‘Do you think turning a women’s college into a co-educational institute will be a hindrance to a safe and comfortable space for learning?’ 50% said yes, while 50% said no.

“My under graduation college was all women’s. There was gender fluidity seen in the student pool. It was a safe space for me to grow as an active citizen of my country, become independent and confident. Being among women does that to you,” says an alumnus in the survey.

“I think it’s important to have spaces that are created for women. And this is true for society at large. Things become overly complicated and gender-focused when co-education is introduced. Suddenly, we need to think of ourselves as women who are going to be seen by men, instead of just people,” says another respondent. “While introducing new students will allow different perspectives to be introduced. It will take away the authenticity of the college away.”

However, some readers have differed. “Definitely, there will be a change in tradition and perhaps the culture too. That doesn’t mean it leans towards a negative one. There is always space to learn and be better. MCC always believes in a neutral culture. They believe in equal opportunity, and turning to co-ed is just a reflection of their principles,” one respondent said.

“Enrolling male students is not an issue to me, but MCC is gold standard for women and I would love to see that continue!” said another respondent.

Concerns and apprehensions persist, but addressing them requires proactive steps by the management while ensuring adherence to their promises.

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