Madison's coeducational experiment has paid off in th efamily way
Story by Angela Krum ('98)
Coeducation at JMU began with the noblest of intentions. Back in 1946, under President Samuel Duke, Madison College began admitting male day students as part of America's efforts to repay returning World War II veterans under the G.I. Bill.
Later, President Tyler Miller consistently went to the General Assembly to admit more men to make up for the lack of male public school teachers in Virginia. His goal was finally achieved in the 1960s, when Virginia ended single-sex education in all four of the state's former teachers colleges and Madison College began admitting men as residential students.
When Ronald E. Carrier became president in 1971, he brought with him a vision of a future regional comprehensive university and reinvigorated Madison's efforts to attract male students as a major step toward that goal. Carrier expanded academic programs like business and liberal arts to appeal to men and started a football team -- obvious proof that Madison College could no longer be considered a woman's college. Students called those first few uncertain years The Great Experiment. Male enrollment stood at 25 percent, the first football team was recruited out of the registration lines, and those pioneering Madison College men joked that being outnumbered by women 3-to-1 had its advantages.
Twenty-seven years later, Carrier's regional comprehensive university has arrived. Male enrollment now accounts for 44 percent of JMU's total enrollment of 13,714. Students are fully integrated in diverse academic programs, and a successful athletics program is firmly entrenched for both sexes.
Those Great Experiment years a generation ago also have produced some unanticipated dividends for JMU. One of them is Andrew Hurda ('98), who was born on the third floor of Wine-Price Hall in 1976. Then, the building was Rockingham Memorial Hospital's maternity wing, and his parents, Marsha ('74) and Don ('75), were newly graduated from Madison College. They had known each other in high school, renewed their romance at Madison College and married after Marsha's junior year.
"We were actually married students at Madison College" says Marsha, who in May celebrated her 25th anniversary with Don. "We were one of those young couples who your parents say will never last, and here we are."
An ironic twist, she says, is that her father allowed her to go Madison College in the first place because there were so few men. "Then Carrier came, and the whole picture changed" Marsha says. "The year we got married there was a coed dorm. My dad let me get married so that I couldn't live in that dorm. Now our son has ended up at JMU, and it's a dream come true."
All three Hurdas experienced some professors in common -- the political science department's Paul Cline, recently retired, and the philosophy department's William O'Meara. But, Andrew says, times -- and JMU -- have changed, and his parents had to make some adjustments.
"I remember when I was 8, we came here to visit, but my parents couldn't remember the exact way because it had been so long" Andrew says. "They stopped to ask for directions to Madison College, and everyone was like, 'You mean JMU?'" They still haven't gotten used to the name change" he laughs.
The Hurdas, former JMU Parents Council members from Pennsylvania, and other JMU-inspired families have compounded the university's legacy tradition. Prior to The Great Experiment, legacies came to JMU through the female line except for a handful of male day student legacies. Graduates of "the Normal" Harrisonburg State Teacher's College, Madison College and JMU have been sending their sisters, daughters, nieces, granddaughters and great-granddaughters to JMU for generations. Today's JMU genealogy tree, however, has sprouted branches for both male and female lines.
Although JMU's records of the decades-long legacy tradition are incomplete, having been built by word-of-mouth, the university has begun tracking its more recent alumni's JMU relations. At least 60 couples who met when both spouses were JMU students or alumni later married and produced children who in turn have come back to JMU as students.
Physical therapist Sarah Schulze Taliaferro ('94) is a product of both pre- and post-Great Experiment legacy phenomena.
"My dad was in one of the first classes with males" she says. "He still calls it The Great Experiment."
Growing up in Maryland, Sarah heard she fraternity tales of her father, John Schulze ('70), and the social life travails of her mother, Sherry ('69), both of whom later served on the JMU Parents Council.
"We had to go to tea wearing white gloves and dresses" Sherry says. "We also had to go to Alumnae Hall to sign in dates, and we couldn't walk on the grass."
On her mother's side, however, Sarah's JMU legacy stretches back four generations. Her great-grandmother, grandmother, uncle, two aunts and a few cousins experienced JMU at different times of its development.
Although she was profoundly and unavoidably influenced by her family, it took more than a few college stories for Sarah to choose JMU. "I stayed overnight with a Student Ambassador, and that's what really did it for me" she says. "My parents kept quiet during the application process, and I was able to decide for myself."
Moving Sarah onto campus brought back old memories and feelings of student life for her parents.
For dad, the feeling lasted until he found himself "carrying tons of stuff up three or four flights of stairs and driving away from my first daughter" John says. But, he adds, JMU was the best place to have to leave his daughter to the real world. "I remember the first Parents Council reception at Dr. Carrier's house. He met me at the door and said, 'One of us is getting older!' Carrier didn't remember who I was, but he took the time to find out before the reception. That's why the school is where it is today."
Lindsey Pack ('01), another Great Experiment dividend, has reason to believe her entire family will follow her to JMU. "I'm the oldest of five girls, and we've all grown up with JMU," she says. "My parents met here and then decided to stay in the area. So I was a ball girl for the basketball team and I sold flyers for the school. JMU's been part of my community."
Her mother, Martha ('73), a Blue Ridge Community College professor, says, "She's starting her life in the same place her parents did." Martha and Thomas ('73) paired off in their junior year. "We had an evolution class together, an 8 o'clock class, and we just evolved. We got married a year later."
Now as a student and the recipient of a JMU Alumni Association Legacy Scholarship, their daughter, Lindsey, sees JMU from a new perspective. "Instead of driving through campus with my parents, I'm now walking.... I'm in the color guard, president of my dorm, and a member of Young Life and Campus Crusades." In short, she has made JMU her own.
Freshman Brian Cooke ('01) has followed in both his parents' footsteps to JMU. They told me stories about how they met here and loved the campus" he says. "Plus, I went to basketball camp here for a few years, so I was familiar with everything."
When Brian's parents, Victoria ('76) and Ken neth ('76) of Colonial Beach, accompanied him on an official JMU campus tour, their excitement competed with his own.
"They totally acted like students again because so much has changed" says Brian, who's preparing to become an athletics trainer. "They were going on more of a tour than I was.
Their enthusiasm subsequently landed the Cookes on the JMU Parents Council. His own excitement aside, however, Kenneth says he tried not to influence his son too much. "The only requirement was that he go to a school in Virginia. But we really just love everything about JMU. It's an area where our lives took shape."
"It's hard to believe the amount of time that's elapsed" Victoria observes. "It's a strange thing" adds her husband, "but all the trees have changed. All the seedlings we saw have now grown up" So have the Cookes' offspring, including the family's latest JMU legacy, incoming freshman, Travis.
"It's kind of neat to be close to your birthplace, even though it's eerie too" says Andrew Hurda, who graduated from JMU in May and will enter Temple University law school this fall.
When Marsha ('74) and Don ('75) brought Andrew to campus for his freshman year, campus life had changed dramatically from that of their college days. Marsha attributes that transition to Carrier, who became president during her freshman year and loosened the old-fashioned campus social rules gradually during her four Madison College years.
"We were able to do all the things we had wanted to," Marsha says. "And now it's amazing how much the students have. Look at the Rec[reation] Center, look at the CISAT building, look at the library."
But while the rules, regulations and campus have been transformed for the better, Marsha says, a few important things have remained the same.
"The people were always friendly, and you felt like you fit in" she says. "Andrew described the same thing after his first few weeks."
"JMU is definitely making a name for itself by being able to span over generations" Don says. His wife agrees."We loved it here, and it's great when our son comes home and says the same thing. There's really a family spirit in spite of how big it is now. It's nice to send a son or daughter to a place that felt so right for you. It eases the pain of letting got."