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Men in the neighbor-Hood

FREDERICK — FREDERICK - Co-education began yesterday at Hood College with a simple lesson in weights and measures: Men are generally bigger than women, and so is their stuff.

That's what the Hood upperclassmen (or rather, upperclasswomen) welcoming this year's freshman class found when they offered to help move in the 43 men who are the first ever to live in the dormitories of the former women's college.

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Eighteen-year-old men might not be burdened with curling irons, the women said, but their clothes are big, their sports equipment is bigger, and they are partial to colossal surround-sound stereo systems.

"You're used to moving in all the girls' stuff, but girls have all little clothes. These guys have these big, 6-foot-tall clothes, and basketball shoes," said Jennifer Palmer, a junior from Hagerstown who, like dozens of other student greeters, wore a red T-shirt with the logo "Bug Me." "I'm surprised how much stuff they have."

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There will be much more to be learned at Hood in the coming months. After 110 years as a women's college, Hood announced last year that it would become co-educational this fall, joining a long list of women's colleges that, struggling with dwindling enrollment, have made the switch.

There have long been a smattering of male commuter students on the Hood campus and occasional chaperoned social visits by men from the U.S. Naval Academy.

But the presence of men actually moving into one dedicated floor in two stately brick dormitories that surround the college's elegant quad was, most agreed, eye-opening.

"It's going to be an interesting year," said Roxanne Koppenhauer, a junior from Bernville, Pa. "There's going to be a lot of drama."

Mostly nonchalant

Taking it in stride were the young men themselves, who, in typical late-teen-age fashion, were mostly nonchalant about their new role as an attention-getting minority. Many said they had long ago gotten used to the idea of being the first class of men at a women's college - though they couldn't help but take some pride in their pioneering status.

The gender ratio "didn't really concern me - it wasn't a major factor," said Geoff Wilt, an 18-year-old from central New Jersey, who brought with him pillows with the logos of a football and the New Jersey Devils. "But it is a bit interesting, because I am making history."

Hood trustees voted to admit male residents last fall in the face of strong opposition from some alumnae. So far, though, the decision has borne positive results for the school, which had seen its enrollment plummet to the point where whole floors of dorms stood vacant.

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Alumnae giving has risen sharply, as have applications from both men and women. The response from male applicants was stronger than expected, college officials say, but women will remain dominant, at first.

The 43 male residents will be outnumbered by the 405 women residents, a ratio of almost 10 to 1. Adding in commuter students, the college's roughly 900 undergraduates will have almost six women to every man.

Most of the male students interviewed yesterday said this gender imbalance played a minimal role in their college choice.

Tuition break

Wilt said he was attracted by Hood's new science building and high faculty-student ratio, plus a scholarship that allows the children of Hood alumnae to pay the same tuition their mothers paid, decades ago, for their freshman year. For him, that means tuition of only $1,950 for his first year, in contrast to the usual figure of about $20,000.

Several other men are athletes drawn by the opportunity to start on a college sports team. Despite the low number of male students, Hood will field teams in several sports, most notably basketball, for which it has recruited 10 players and famed Tom Dickman, Maryland's all-time winningest public high school coach, from Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick.

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"I just overlooked the [gender factor.] I want to play basketball and I didn't want to go too far," said Eric Ansari, 18, a freshman from Montgomery County who came equipped with a gigantic refrigerator and a stack of DVDs including the movie Fight Club.

"I figured [the team] is going to get a lot of publicity," he said.

A few students were more candid about the gender dynamics that awaited them. Brian Auer, a graduate of Towson High School, said he chose Hood over Towson University and other schools partly because of the obvious social advantage.

"I'm looking forward to it just because there's more girls and less guys. The chances are better," said Auer, a musician who brought bagpipes, a viola and a keyboard to Hood. "Hey, the minority rules in a lot of places."

'They're all jealous'

Wilt's father, Rich Wilt, had a similar thought. As his son mentioned that some friends back home had kidded him for his college choice, Rich Wilt muttered sarcastically, "They're all jealous, that's what it amounts to. It's terrible odds, just terrible odds."

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Wilt's mother, Wilma DeFazio Wilt, who graduated in 1974, worried that such thinking could work against her son and the other men, if the women at her alma mater question the men's motives in coming to Hood. "It's hard for the women who came here because it's a women's college," she said. "They may think, 'gee, are [the men] here just because of the ratio?'"

Indeed, some of the women at the college are nervous that the men's arrival could upset their school's cozy atmosphere. Will women get into arguments over the sparse men? Will the men's presence ruin such traditions as the "Spirit Spoon Competition," in which freshmen from rival dorms compete with skits and trivia contests?

"People are concerned the guys might not be into all that," said Chanda Gilmore, a senior from West Chester, Pa.

Yesterday was dominated by more harmless adjustments. Several men - all of whom were welcomed with buckets of candy and colorful signs on their doors from their appointed "big sisters" - found that their rooms still had beds far too small for them, though school officials had promised extra-long mattresses.

Then there are the bathrooms on the men's floors: one bright pink, the other bright yellow, neither of which will be repainted.

"We think they're comfortable enough with their manhood so they can walk into a pink bathroom," said Hood spokesman Dave Diehl.

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Meanwhile, in the bathrooms in women's wings, which men will be allowed to use, students have posted signs imploring men to put down the toilet seat: "If you have the strength to lift it up, you have the strength to put it down."

Put them to work

But by midday, there were signs that women students were already recognizing that there might be some benefits in their new classmates. On one of the two men's floors, a student called Ali had posted a sign saying, "I need a boy to help me move something. Please help," followed by a heart shape and a phone number.

Not only that, but gender sensitivities seemed to be taking hold as well: Either Ali or another classmate had crossed out the word "boy" and written, in large letters: "Man."

Observed Craig Callender, Wilt's roommate, from Fairbanks, Alaska: "I think everyone is really hoping to make this work."


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