In fact, the all-male campus has allowed students to set
aside social norms associated with their sex. A New Yorker profile of Deep Springs,
published in September 2006, quotes the wife of an alumnus:
In an environment
where there are no women, men necessarily do "womanish things"... In the time
that my husband was there, he was a cook and an orderly, so he was basically
cooking and cleaning. For two years, he performed both physical tasks and
emotional tasks that were "female"--being a good friend, listening and
crying--and I think it helped removed some of the gendering from those things.
Many Deep Springs alumni have retained an attachment to this
experience. The chairman of the Deep Springs board of trustees, Dave Hitz, wrote:
In letters and conversations, many
alumni described the value to them of an all-male environment: it provided a
time for introspection, for maturing, for especially strong camaraderie, and
for reflection on the meaning of being a man. I felt this myself. The battle
for mixed-sex schools, workplaces, and clubs has mostly been won, and society
is becoming more accepting of people wanting some time in single-sex
environments, so some argued that now is not the time to change. We wrestled
with this. In the end, most trustees regretfully concluded that there will be a
loss, but that Nunn's focus on leadership and service justifies the change.
Deep Springs began to formally consider admitting women in
March of this year, but according to Neidorf, the topic has been frequently
discussed for at least 30 years. In 1994, after reviewing an application from a
woman, Deep Springs maintained its male-only admissions policy by a close vote.
Neidorf says that there was no particular event or reason that triggered the
board's decision to accept female students this time around, aside from the
college's long-term review of admissions policy.
Some have wondered if the school had financial motives for
going co-ed. In 1998, an educational nonprofit called the Telluride
Association, also founded by Nunn, helped Deep Springs renovate its main
building. From the beginning, Telluride reserved the right to ask Deep Springs
for compensation in 2019.
But later on, the Telluride Association, which has both male and
female members, decided to make the terms a bit more stringent. Its bylaws now
state that if Deep Springs remains single-gender in 2019, Telluride must demand repayment. According to
Neidorf, the college put financial policies in place to ensure it could make
the payment, and emphasized that the arrangement with Telluride "had absolutely
no role in the decision to go co-ed."
If anything, Neidorf says, concern for fundraising has
hindered the college's ability to go co-ed in the past, for fear of turning off
loyal alumni. But attitudes have changed, and after months of conversation with
Deep Springers and a retreat held for the board of trustees, the decision was
made to include women in the group that Nunn called "the few." When the board
interviewed five past presidents of the college, along with Neidorf, all of
them agreed Deep Springs should start to admit women.