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ack in 1972, mini-skirts and bell-bottoms were all the rage at Radford College. The first campus concert of the year featured Blue Oyster Cult and the war in Vietnam was nearing its close. With his eye on the future, President Donald Dedmon announced a big change on RU's campus - coeducation.
What had been an all-female institution for six decades was breaking tradition and admitting undergraduate men for the first time; shaping forever the curriculum and policies of the school, not to mention the view.
The first male class at RU was around 92 strong, 36 of whom lived on campus. "They were outnumbered 35 to one," said David Moore, then vice president of academic affairs and chair of the Ad hoc Committee on Coeducation, which was one of the task forces Dedmon created. "Some didn't make it through those four years, but they all had smiles on their faces," Moore said.
Coeducation was one of many changes brought about in the early 1970s to combat decreasing enrollment and student dissatisfaction. The task forces proposed many recommendations to improve the university and the Board of Visitors approved recommendations for new self-regulating hours for students, an increase from two to 19 hours of open-door visitation, the consolidation of the schools of humanities, social sciences and natural sciences into one school of arts and sciences and the implementation of coeducation.
Dedmon announced the coeducation of Radford with these words, "In fairness to the citizens of the Commonwealth, Radford can no longer in conscience deny admission to students on the basis of sex. Rather, Radford must serve citizens of the Commonwealth without regard to race, religion or sex."
Radford College, the second largest state-supported women's college in the United States at the time, became part of the national trend to admit men. Many other traditionally single-sex schools around the nation, including Yale, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and University of Virginia, had made the change to coeducation and had done so successfully. Dedmon was hoping to follow those examples. No preferential treatment was given to male applicants and the number of male students increased annually until leveling off at about 40 percent of total enrollment.
Danny Link, now a certification analyst for the Virginia Department of Corrections, was one of those first 36 men to live on campus as a member of the inaugural male class.
"It was a crazy time," said Link. "It was a hard adjustment for a lot of people. We kind of busted the door wide open as far as rules were concerned."
And those rules had been pretty strict up until then. The college practiced an in loco parentis policy, meaning administrators, house mothers and other personnel took the place of parents in governing students. This meant limited social hours with the opposite sex and intense supervision. Not only were women only allowed to date men from a list of approved acceptable dates, first dates were limited to the dating parlor, or, if double dating, some other identified location on campus.
Moore attributes much of the student unrest to those strict policies. "There were many changes going on in many universities where the in loco parentis role was rapidly eroding," says Moore. "Those institutions holding onto that role were under greater attack by student bodies." About the same time Radford was transformed into a coeducational school, students began to play a larger role in the school's governance and morale greatly improved.
Many changes, not only in the rules but also in residence halls, needed to be made to accommodate the addition of men to campus, according to Dean of Students Bonnie Hurlburt. Some of those changes included raising the shower heads, installing men's bathrooms and upgrading the recreational facilities. Some of the older dorms that were not renovated for the coeds probably still have shorter shower heads, says Hurlburt. The renovations began with Norwood Hall, the first all-male dormitory.
"It was like a big fraternity, all of us living there," says Link. He recalls a feeling of brotherhood and friendly competition, as well as being partners in crime. Many pranks were played by the new men on campus, and according to Link, they ended up paying for some of them. Link recalls traveling with his cohorts late one night through the steam tunnels under campus to a neighboring female dorm. They pulled the fire alarm and when the rudely-awakened women fled outside in their nightgowns and robes, their male counterparts, atop their residence Norwood, turned fire hoses on them. And the payment for that cruel prank? "There is nothing more terrifying than 15 women descending on your room in the middle of the night," says Link. This time, the women repaid the men with a late night raid, he recalls with laughter. Other than a lot of prank-playing, he says that most of the women got used to the men on campus and some just ignored them. He believes that the decision to go coed was an economic one and feels RU may not have survived without the increased enrollment from the admission of men.
Members of the first fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa,
helped to expand the college's social outlets, both
on- and off-campus.
Most of the women at Radford approved of the choice to go coed, Hurlburt and Moore agree. There seemed to be more disapproval from the juniors and seniors who had chosen Radford for its single-sex status, but for the most part students realized it was important for Radford to admit men to remain financially stable. And those who did disagree, says Moore, were given the opportunity to voice their opinion. An article in the Graphurchat, the student paper, allowed student voices to be heard on the issue of coeducation. The majority of the comments in the article, "Guys and Girls Together - Do We Like it or Not?" produced positive comments.
Keith Keiper, a 1977 graduate who went on to become the director of Heth Student Center from 1981 to 1995, was in the second male class at RU, which numbered around 200. He recalls professors having to correct themselves from addressing the class as "ladies," as well as an incident when a few "radicals" stood in front of Norwood and yelled at the men in protest of their admission. In response to the outburst, some men on the roof of Norwood dumped half a trash can of water on the screaming females. Water seemed to be their prime war weapon. "It was all good, clean fun," said Keiper.
Keiper admits that many of the women resented the men being there, and says that occasionally he received prank phone calls in the middle of the night. "They would torment us," he commented lightly. With the exception of a few incidents, he claims the men went largely unnoticed. "Just because 200 guys show up on a campus doesn't mean the women are going to drop everything and take notice," says Keiper. "They had other things to do."
Virginia C. Doud, alumni affairs director for the last 16 years, was a student at Radford during the first years of coeducation and says that what made the inaugural men on campus so easy to be around and get to know was that they were very friendly and happy to be at Radford. She also says the move to coeducation was necessary to achieve the diversity that RU possesses today.
"I've heard from a few alumnae who lament the fact that Radford became coed, but most understand that Radford's enrollment was on a decline and single-sex education had become a least favorite choice for post-war parents and the flower children of the 70s," says Doud. "I can't imagine what Radford would be like today if we had not made that choice to admit men."
With the arrival of men, recreational sports boomed on campus. Keiper says that with such a small number of men, they all knew each other and that fostered friendly competition. Before the creation of the Dedmon Center, athletic competitions were held on campus and according to Dean Hurlburt, things got kind of crazy. "Before the Dedmon Center opened, this campus was a circus," she recalls. "Balls would go through windows all the time."
With men came increased athletic competition and eventually a move to NCAA Division I status. Fraternities also became part of campus life. Keiper was a member of RU's first fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa. Although nothing like RU's modern-day fraternities (Keiper recalls having the corner of a basement as their "fraternity house") Phi Sigma Kappa created an opportunity for more on- as well as off-campus social events. More opportunities for parties and social interaction led to brother-sister relationships between the fraternity and sororities.
One social event that remains in the memories of many students from the early 1970s was Richard LaBrie's pig roasts at Claytor Lake. LaBrie, a 1977 graduate, was the first male Student Government Association (SGA) president and host of what became a yearly pig roast. The first roast, held at his parents' cottage at Claytor Lake, attracted a few friends, he recalls. By his senior year, more than 400 people headed up to the lake where two pigs, kegs of beer and two bands awaited. LaBrie's parents also showed up, unaware of the party their son had planned.
LaBrie says it was not difficult to be accepted at Radford during the first years of coeducation, even though he was the only male in many of his classes. LaBrie, who had the unique distinction of being voted the first Ms. Radford, says the men and women often helped each other and were more like a big family. The Ms. Radford contest, which occurred before a packed Preston auditorium, mirrored the Miss America pageant with formal, swimsuit, talent and interview segments. This 6-foot-4, 210-lb. man located a bikini swimsuit at the last minute, thanks to a female friend living in Madison Hall. For the talent competition he wore "hot pants" and a halter top and sang a Bob Dylan tune with a pal. When he was voted as one of the six finalists, the interview question, "To what do you owe your great beauty," elicited this response from LaBrie: "Only my hairdresser knows for sure." After that, acceptance was easy, he says. "After that one episode, making such a fool of myself, especially as an ex-marine, I couldn't make enough friends."
LaBrie, now an area supervisor for Alliant Technology Systems, is an avid supporter of RU athletics and still attends basketball games at the Dedmon Center. When LaBrie was an SGA member, the group lobbied in Richmond for funding for the athletic complex. Now, when he attends games in the Dedmon center, he knows that it is there because of the cooperation of the women and newly admitted men at Radford. "It's nice to go to a game and know you were part of an era trying to bring that about."
Although several men had graduated from Radford as graduate and special undergraduate students, Richard Gordon was designated as the first male to graduate after Radford switched to coeducation. Gordon, a 1973 graduate, has remained active with RU over the years. Honored in 1987 with an Outstanding Service Award for the Alumni Association, Gordon was the first male president of the association from 1985 to 1989 and has been a member on the Alumni Association Executive council since 1977.
"I felt right at home from day one," Gordon remembers about his Radford College career. "Coeducation gave the college a different point of view that it didn't have before. You don't get the full picture unless both sexes are represented and the addition of men rounded things out."
A quarter century
admitted its first
class of male
students. Men and
and, to a certain
together, and the
By Stephanie Pas
The 6-foot-4, 210 lb. man located a bikini swimsuit at the last minute and wore "hot pants" and a halter top while singing a Bob Dylan tune with a pal for the talent competition. "After making such a fool of myself, I couldn't make enough friends."