By Mary Hinton
[email protected]

The Rule of St. Benedict begins with a call to “Listen.” In our noisy, fast-paced culture, that’s often quite difficult. But as we look to the future of the College of St. Benedict, creating time to authentically listen to the voices of our community has never been more important. Toward that end, CSB is hosting a series of Listening Salons throughout the academic year focused on the question: Who and how we are called to serve today?

We held our first listening salon on Oct. 4., addressing the question, “What does it mean to be a college for women today?” It’s an important question as the opportunities available to women continue to expand and grow.

Facilitated by Dr. Susan Cogdill, Vice President Mary Geller and myself, more than two dozen students, faculty and staff attended the session sharing ideas, hopes and concerns about what it means to be a college for women. Our conversation focused on three key questions: 1) what do we offer that makes us unique as a college for women?, 2) where can we find support for women’s education? and 3) where do we encounter roadblocks to helping young women think critically, advocate passionately and lead courageously?

The spirited dialogue identified several opportunities we must address to excel as a college for women. The first directed us to explore as a community the ways we can be mindful of the “hidden curriculum” for women, the too prevalent unwritten, unofficial and often unintended lessons, values and perspectives that
limit women’s opportunities. We discussed the need to uncover and eradicate this hidden curriculum on campus and beyond.

We also discussed the concept that college is and should be a place for rehearsing for life on a safe stage. CSB should strive to nurture and support our young women to find and use their voice, to take risks, to explore opportunities, to experience failure, to build resilience and to own their success. We must
identify biased structures, remove barriers and advance these important goals.

We also considered this question in light of our partnership with SJU. We  recognize that we are not simply a college for women, but rather a college for women in partnership with a college for men. Our relationship is wholly unique in American higher education. That relationship and all it promises should lead us away from a “comparative narrative” between CSB and SJU and toward a narrative that understands and celebrates both our individual and shared strengths.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to provide a model for cooperation, trust and partnership in a world with too few examples.

We plan to identify working groups to address each of these key points and to propose a road map for moving each forward. We will continue to listen, inviting community input and feedback and report back as we make progress.

Our ultimate aim is to take a generational step forward defining and focusing our purpose and mission as an exceptional college for women.