Women's Colleges: The Launchpad to a Life of Leadership and Service

03/24/2015 05:15 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2015
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American women were often discouraged from pursuing a college education until well into the twentieth century. The unfortunate announcement that Sweet Briar College will close later this year may cause some to question the relevance of women's colleges. As a proud graduate of Spelman College, I know firsthand that women's colleges have a strong track record of launching women into positions of leadership and service. Consequently, these institutions are not only relevant but essential to the continued evolution of women's roles in our country.

My own experience illustrates my point. Spelman is a historically black liberal arts college for women located in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1881 by Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles, Spelman has consistently graduated highly educated African American women who not only achieve in their respective fields but also live a life of service. I was 17 years old when I began my freshman year at Spelman. Academically, I was well prepared for college. But, I was shy, socially awkward, and lacked self-confidence. My Spelman experience changed how I saw myself. Spelman helped me identify and listen to my own voice. Several of my professors were Spelman graduates. These women were living examples of how Spelman had evolved over the decades before I became a student. They were not only my teachers but toughest critics and most ardent supporters demanding my very best during each and every class.

In her seminal book Their Eyes Were Watching God, writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston describes African American women as "de mules of the world." We are expected to always be strong without breaking and long suffering. Historically, African American women have been caricatured as promiscuous Jezebels, malicious Sapphires, and obedient Mammies. Spelman provides a safe space where these caricatures of African American womanhood simply do not exist beyond a classroom lecture or textbook. At Spelman, I had the luxury of coming of age in a nurturing environment specifically tailored to meet my academic, social, emotional, and spiritual needs as a young African American woman. Sadly, the current climate in America rarely offers the kinds of nurturing and affirming experiences that will feed the souls of "de mules of the world."

For me, Spelman College is more than an academic institution. It is the place where I first tasted the freedom to be myself without the fear of rejection or judgment. Spelman has become my North Star. It is my touchstone; the place where I come to remind myself of all that is still possible.

I have shared how Spelman College shaped and defined me. I cannot help but believe that alumnae from other women's colleges have had similar experiences and would love to hear your stories. As women we seldom have a place or opportunity that is entirely our own. In my case, the freedom that I experienced in a place so steeped in my history gave me the confidence to live bravely, use my talents and skills to be of service to others, and my voice to fiercely communicate my truth.

As always be empowered, encouraged, and enlightened.