Vishnu Prabhu, a literature student, understands irony. As an undergraduate student, he had a gender studies course where a class of all men had to write a paper on feminism.
For a city with a vibrant college atmosphere, such an experience is not strange as it has very few coeducational arts and science institutions. Apart from limiting perspective, the situation also impacts how students fare as professionals later. Vishnu, now pursuing his master's in a mixed classroom, realises that the learning environment has become richer. “I think having different perspectives on an issue can enhance the quality of discussions,” he emphasises.
For a co-educational school student, being in a single-sex college can be rather difficult. “Whether it is about casual conversations, joking or teasing, or about having serious discussions, nothing like having a mixed group,” says S. Ramya, who studies in a women's college. Apart from restricting the learning environment, the lack of adequate interaction with members of the opposite sex seems to have other implications, too. J. Shahul Hameed, who graduated in commerce from New College last year, is now employed in the BPO sector. “I really wish I had studied in a co-education college. While I am very confident about interacting with my male colleagues, I hesitate to talk to my female colleagues. I maintain a distance,” he says.
Miriam Samuel, Head, Department of Social Work, and Dean of Humanities, Madras Christian College, says the overall positive atmosphere in the institution helps young men and women have healthy interaction on campus.
“It is important that more institutions consider admitting men and women. Also, it is important that these institutions consciously create space and opportunities for women, like in student leadership and in other extra curricular areas,” she adds.
Ms. Samuel also feels that campuses are an ideal place to discuss gender concerns. “They are not discussed in families, social or religious circles. But it is possible on campuses.”
Aniruddhan Vasudevan of The Shakti Resource Centre that works on building discussions on gender and sexuality feels the whole “gender segregation business is funny and violent.”
“What are the assumptions? That boys and girls should be kept away from each other to prevent any possibility of sexual attraction? I think that is a ridiculous notion and it is very sexist,” he says. Mr. Vasudevan also thinks such segregation significantly impacts students' perspective and understanding of the opposite sex. “We are being very distrustful of students, even if we are not telling them explicitly.”