As you may or may not know, Oxford is a university made up of colleges. Until today, one of those was St. Hilda's college, and it only admitted women as students. This had upsides and downsides- to be superficial, it meant that Hilda's grounds were remarkably clean. On the the other hand, it meant that some male undergraduates from other colleges regarded Hilda's as an Amazonian paradise. I once heard someone remark that the only real difference it made was that if there was a fire-drill at night, it was immediately obvious who was a 'guest'.
Well, today Hilda's has decided to go co-ed. Somerville did it ten years ago, and other colleges did it before them. Cambridge still has three all-female colleges.
One of the biggest problems Hilda's had is that it could, obviously, only pick from 50% of the applicant field, and this made statistics look bad- but, more importantly, it meant that unless a female applicant specifically applied to some other college, she was statistically very likely to be assigned to Hilda's. Not a few regarded this with chagrin. Once they got here, they generally realised it was no big deal after all. Even so, this was a problem and so we wondered what to do. Someone suggested allowing a tick-box to apply to "Anywhere except St. Hilda's" but this could well have quartered the size of the college in three years.
What we really needed was a widespread change in attitudes about Oxford, but we need that on a lot of topics. I'm sure Feminists will recognise the situation.
In the end, we've decided to give up on the idea of a single-sex college. There is one big demographic who will not welcome this news at all, though: daughters of religious (and especially Muslim) families, who were only given blessing to study at Oxford on the condition that they could do it in the anti-shennanegans environment of a single-sex college. You and I know that St. Hilda's isn't a whole lot more or less promiscuous than any other college but as is so often the case, it's perception that's important.
But what else is there to do? It's not like there's any all-male colleges, right?
In addition to colleges, we also have Permanent Private Halls- most are outgrowths of Christian monasteries and the biggest are sub-colleges. They have a special status in terms of applications: you probably won't go to a PPH unless you apply to one. They're small, and tend not to have tutors in the Science subjects. They're dominated by Theology, and most incorporate a body of monks. Some are, or have been, all-male.
What we need is an institution, call it a Hall or College, that has this same status for admissions. Don't put people in the "Hilda's or Nowhere" fork that some have faced. I think there'll be enough interest on it's own.
But we've got the mechanics of a PPH; why not use a little of it's flavour? Most Halls have a religious dimension. How about a Hall that tries to be a centre of excellence in Muslim theology? It's exactly as useful as Christian theology, after all, and as a university we're alreadycommitted to study and philosophy in mainstream or "liberal" western Islam. And really, how many opportunities are there for women to get prestigious positions in Muslim thought? If nothing else, it'd be one thing we could offer a brand Cambridge don't.
Maybe we should call it "St. Rabi'a Hall"?