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Celebrating 100 Years: The Coordinate College Explained

By Beth Anne Spacht

October 8, 2014

If you’ve done your research into the University of Richmond, you may have encountered an unfamiliar term: “coordinate college system.” The coordinate college system is one of the defining features of the University of Richmond. Born from our history as a separate college for men (Richmond College) and for women (Westhampton College), the idea of two distinct schools within the University of Richmond umbrella can be a bit confusing in this day and age. What does it mean that we’ve maintained bits of this structure within our overarching University, and how does it impact University of Richmond students today?  

In honor of 100 years since the founding of Westhampton College, I’d like to spend a few moments delving into what this system means for you. The long and short of it is that, on the surface level, you probably won’t notice the presence of the coordinate system in your daily life as a University of Richmond student: coordinate college ≠ gender-separate learning or living. Indeed, the University of Richmond experience has been fully integrated and co-educational since the merger of the two schools in the 1970’s. This means that all students take classes together, use the same dining and student life facilities on campus, belong to the same student organizations, and live on both sides of campus together (including co-ed residence halls). At the end of the day, your diploma comes from the University of Richmond and the academic school of your major(s); as a member of Westhampton College or Richmond College, but from the University of Richmond all the same. As we like to say here, “We Are UR” – one campus welcomes all.

Where the dual distinction does play out is through parallel leadership opportunities for men and women. Separate student governance systems for each college, including Senate, Honor and Judicial Council, mean twice as many opportunities to serve in leadership roles. Two deans of students – one for Richmond College and one for Westhampton College – mean more support for the development of all students in the areas of leadership and co-curricular involvement. Traditions tied to Westhampton and Richmond Colleges ensure that we remember our past as we look to our future. And last but not least, the coordinate college encourages the view of gender as a construct. True to our liberal arts core, students are taught to keep a critical eye to how gender shapes identity; the school’s structure merely complements this notion of social examination and inclusion.

On a personal level, my first true awareness of Westhampton College began on Proclamation Night, a ceremony in which first year women sign the honor code (first year Richmond College men have an equivalent ceremony called Investiture). As a first year woman, you write a letter to yourself that is delivered back as a senior. As freshman write, seniors receive. It’s a beautiful ritual that starts your college experience on a note of introspection, reflection, and the principles of honor and accountability.  To me, these values define Westhampton College. My years working in Westhampton College Residence Life only made the picture clearer. Watching students find a home at the University of Richmond while dealing with emotional turmoil, family situations, and longstanding issues of inclusion and acceptance made me realize that I was somewhere special; somewhere everyone could find a place. Through mentorship, both given and received, I was able to recognize the importance of out-of-the-classroom experiences in strengthening the type of person I wanted to be in this world. It was a lesson taught by the University of Richmond, and strengthened by my affiliation and relationship with the Dean, faculty, staff, and students in Westhampton College. The school-within-a-school structure merely made me feel like I had that many more people rooting for my success at college.

I think it’s safe to say that you may not fully “get” the coordinate college system until you arrive on campus. Even then, it takes a bit to understand. But to delve into our history is to understand the value of a system that provides more resources, support, and leadership opportunities than many schools, simply by nature of our focus on equal opportunity. 100 years ago, Westhampton College was at the forefront of women’s education in the South. Today, the University of Richmond is still on the cutting edge of creating opportunity for both men and women. For all students, the coordinate system remains a way to ensure that no one falls behind in their college journey. You’ll always find a place, a resource, a friend, a colleague in Richmond and Westhampton College – and in the University of Richmond as a whole.

We’ve come a long way in 100 years and I’m excited to see where the next century will take the University of Richmond. In the meantime, I invite you join us as we celebrate 100 years of co-education by checking out this amazing video created for Westhampton College’s Centennial!

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Tom NicholasTom Nicholas
Senior Assistant Director of Admission 

A Richmond alumnus (Class of 2007), Tom has been working and blogging for the Office of Admission since he graduated. He loves his alma mater and the city that shares its name.

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Beth Anne SpachtBeth Anne Spacht
Assistant Director of Admission

Beth Anne was a double major at Richmond (English and Latin American & Iberian Studies) and now enjoys helping prospective students discover the best of her alma mater.

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The University of Richmond is a highly ranked liberal arts university offering an extraordinary combination of the liberal arts with law, business, leadership studies, and continuing education. The university is consistently named a best value in higher education by leading publications.

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