Wabash College, One of a Dying Breed
The masculine mystique
Acting like a "gentleman" is one fusty standard that many male undergrads no longer aspire to--unless they attend Wabash College. The all-male, 800-student college in Crawfordsville, Ind., has one simple rule: "A Wabash man will conduct himself at all times, both on and off campus, as a gentleman and responsible citizen." That "Gentleman's Rule" is more than a hollow honor-code homily. The bathrooms at Wabash have no graffiti because gentlemen don't scrawl on stalls. Gentlemen don't cheat, so few professors bother to supervise exams. Gentlemen don't steal, so the college has no security force. "We do have a night plumber," concedes the college president, Andrew Ford. "But when we painted 'Security' on his truck back in 1995, some of the students felt that we had gone too far."
No girls allowed. Once, Wabash would not have seemed such an anomaly. In 1965, the nation had 236 all-male colleges, and as late as 1968, elite institutions like Yale, Princeton, and Amherst did not admit women. Faced with new pressures--such as the women's movement and the burden of recruiting top-notch faculty and students to all-male institutions--men's colleges rapidly began turning coed. The last of the single-sex military academies went coed in 1997, leaving just three all-male colleges of any size: Wabash, Hampden-Sydney in Virginia, and Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Unlike the nation's 79 all-female colleges, all-male schools often draw snickers as chauvinist relics. Yet the single-sex schools now share common purposes: They provide fewer hormone-driven diversions, a unique chance to develop lifelong confidants of the same sex, and an opportunity to take on roles that students might ordinarily relegate to the opposite sex.
Wabash men, 3 in 4 of whom live in fraternities, are known to study hard and play hard. Abundant old-school traditions have helped Wabash survive and are maintained by the "campus spirit" group, the Sphinx Club. Members wear beanies on prescribed days, do community work, and judge how well pledges bellow "Old Wabash," the college fight song, before the homecoming game. They also serve as cheerleaders at football games with archrival DePauw and other schools. Yet Wabash is not glued to the past. It has a small gay student group and a Muslim Student Association. And in 1996, it put on the U.S. college debut--to sold-out houses--of Angels in America, the Tony award-winning play about AIDS.
Many of the boys who come to Wabash go on to become doctors and lawyers, with 75 percent of students heading to graduate school within five years. Alumni are intensely loyal and include former Sphinx Club member David Kendall, now President Clinton's attorney. "Running into an alum is like a firefighter running across another firefighter--you just know what you've both been through," says Mark Cevallos, an editor at the student newspaper, The Bachelor. Yet all-male schools will probably never proliferate again--if only because few parents will soon have any memories of places like Wabash.--David Whitman
This story appears in the February 8, 1999 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.