By Alex Van Meir
When Peace College announced that the school was going to change from an all women’s college to a coed institution named William Peace University in 2010, it sent shockwaves not only through the administration and current students, but also through the entire alumnae community.
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“Our goal is to preserve Peace and make it a reputable university. We have the right administration at the right time and I feel positive about what the future holds for Peace.”
Sara Jo Manning ‘60
“I love that Peace gave my husband, McCale, an opportunity to have a good education and he may even be the valedictorian this upcoming spring. This school took a chance on him as his high school G.P.A. was not the greatest but it ultimately paid off and I am proud of the man he has become.”
Jessica Penven-Crew ‘13
“I tried to uphold the traditions of Peace. I attended things and tried to bring along as many people as I could. We did not lose traditions. The reason things began to fade away was that students stopped coming.”
Tarecka Payne ‘15
Alumnae concerns included the abruptness of the change and an overall fear the school cherished traditions and culture would be forever changed. Many of these fears have been softened by the time and recent efforts to incorporate alumnae back into Peace’s culture.
“My gut reaction was sadness and feeling uninformed and not fully understanding why the changes were happening so quickly,” said Jane Bondurant, class of 1971. “But looking around I saw the same changes were happening at other women’s colleges and universities; therefore I knew that Peace College had to make those changes to survive and thrive.”
Many felt that there was a lack of communication that would have helped them understand the reasoning behind this decision. Even though focus groups were held in fall of 2011, many alumnae and students said they weren’t given clear information that the rumors were true.
“I had signed up to go to an all-girls school,” said Jessica Lytle Penven-Crew, class of 2013. “They did not really tell anyone about the changes that were about to take place.”
Hannah Murphy, class of 2014, said that once she understood the need for change she was able to continue loving Peace.
“I loved the school and I did not want it to go anywhere,” said Murphy. “I was fine with the guys coming but I was not fine with how the administration handled it. I did not even really notice the change at first as I was a junior when the boys first arrived at Peace.”
One of the main concerns from the alumnae about this change was the loss of traditions such as Peanut Week. Michelle Cannon, class of 2004 recognizes that it “may seem trivial” but these traditions were an important part of her experience.
“My experience at a women’s college is irreplaceable,” said Cannon. “I was sad there may not be anymore all women productions of Shakespeare by Peace College Theatre. That was one of the most unique and amazing pieces of Peace for me. What about the rose ceremony during graduation? I was worried that everything would disappear and be forgotten.”
But many of the beloved traditions such as throwing the rose into the fountain at graduation along with jumping into the fountain have survived despite the change.
“I did not think they would ever do something to take traditions away when it seemed like such an important part of Peace and its history, boys or no boys,” said Christiane Newell, class of 2015. “I knew that the campus might feel different with boys, but I believed it would stay close to where it came from, keep its traditions and that family feeling. I’m glad I was right about that. By bringing boys in, Peace opened the door to create new traditions. Change isn’t always bad.”
Other alumnae such as Janna Joyner, class of 2012, feared for loss of Peace’s unique academic experience from learning about women’s roles within a male dominated area, biology, to learning about fostering feminist ideals within students.
“I was worried that we would lose the culture of Peace,” said Megan Hoffner, class of 2011. “Peace took the time to remember who I was even though I was not special. I struggled with the idea of losing the sisterhood.”
Although many of the alumnae were hurt by the decisions made by former president Debra Townsley, Ph. D, some have recognized the need for the changes that were made.
“Dr. Townsley came at a time when it was crucial for change,” said Sara Jo Manning, class of 1958, 1960, and 2015 recipient of an honoree doctorate degree. “I applaud her ability to stand up under the pressures. I believe that alumnae should recognize that what has happened in the past is just that, and that the present and the future is what we need to support.”
Overall there is overwhelming excitement outpouring from the alumnae community about William Peace University’s present, especially in the re-engagement of the alumnae community.
“It was really hard being a student and seeing a lot of alumni, and even other students, angry and hateful towards the place you love most,” said Newell. “It was just so disheartening and sad to me. Of course not everyone felt that way and I had the chance to meet a ton of amazing alumnae. Moving forward, I hope Peace’s students now and in the future only get the positive side of that and have the opportunity to meet and build relationships with Peace’s alumni like I did.”
Tarecka Payne, a recent graduate who now works at Peace in the Registrar’s office, sees that there is still work to be done.
“We are going straight into the preteen stage and I am honestly not sure if it will rebel or accept it and find its own standing once more,” said Payne. “I hope and pray that the leaders are strong enough to keep it afloat so that one day my kids can attend the university I have called home all of these years.”
While Peace has gone through tremendous changes over the past few years it seems as if the wounds are healing from previous injuries. Alumnae are now reaching back to the place they once called home as they see the potential for growth is exponential as it strives to create the best and brightest male and female students for the careers of tomorrow.
As President Brian Ralph put it: Peace is starting a new chapter and this is really exciting because we can write anything we want in this new chapter.