Baltimore suburb or small town New England? Visitors arriving at Towson's Goucher College are greeted by a little bit of both. The campus beckons visitors with its small pond and ample woods covering much of the 287-acre campus. The stone buildings, surrounded by lounging students in favorable weather, make the college seem less like a suburban attraction and more like the small liberal arts colleges farther north.
Goucher does lay claim to that liberal arts tradition. It is also part of the tradition of educating women, which was its main mission until becoming co-ed in 1986. Today the school has grown to an enrollment of approximately 1,700 students.
Faces and focuses
Though most of Goucher's students hail from the mid-Atlantic region, the student body includes people from across the nation and abroad. Recently, applicant numbers have risen, with about half of all applicants accepted. The 2003 edition of U.S. News and World Report's college rankings places Goucher in the top 100 of the nation's liberal arts colleges.
Goucher students choose from 24 majors. One popular option is an interdisciplinary major in which students, under close advisement from faculty members, design their own majors. Most Goucher students are undergraduates, but the school also offers graduate programs: An M.A. in arts administration, historical preservation, and teaching, an M.F.A. in creative non-fiction and an M. Ed.
A new academic addition is the Kratz Center for Creative Writing that funds a writer-in-residence each semester and is headed by novelist Madison Smartt Bell, author of "Master of the Crossroads" and "All Souls' Rising."
Another recent change at Goucher involves its stewardship. Sanford J. Ungar tookoffice in July 2001 after an extended nationwide search following the departure of Judy Jolley Mohraz. (Mohraz led the school in one of its most successful financial endeavors, a $40 million capital campaign.) Ungar, a former voice on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and Dean of the School of Communications at American University, has said that increasing Goucher's international and global consciousness is one of his primary goals.
Goucher was founded in downtown Baltimore in 1885 by Methodist ministers Dr. John Goucher and John B. Van Meter, with the assistance of Goucher's wife Mary Cecilia Fisher Goucher. Originally named Women's College of Baltimore, the school was renamed Goucher in 1910 following Dr. Goucher's death. The school remained downtown until 1954 when it moved to its present location.
Goucher was much more than a finishing school for elite young women. The students studied everything from the classics to physics and chemistry. The women of Goucher were serious about things other than studying. In the 1960s Goucher students participated in the civil rights movement. A few even landed in jail for their efforts.
The school's community activism remains strong today. Several classes incorporate service components. Outside of class, students often join CAUSE, a community service organization and one of the largest student clubs on campus. Their activities include tutoring at-risk junior high school students and working with victims of domestic violence.
In the mid-1980s, men eventually joined Goucher's women. Nationwide, same-sex colleges were unable to recruit large numbers in the early 1980s. Struggling to fill classrooms and dorm rooms, Goucher started to accept male students, much to the dismay of many of its alumni. With the incorporation of men, the school also ceded its place among the prestigious Seven Sisters Network that includes Smith College and Mount Holyoke.
Life as a Goucher Gopher
Today, both men and women traffic Goucher's paths and hallways, but the women enjoy a healthy majority. The gender ratio of the school vacillates between 60 to 40 and 75 to 25. The school's nationally recognized, primarily female dance department contributes to the considerable gender divide.
Dance is only one of Goucher's more popular majors. Political science, history, psychology and communications also top that list. Academically, all majors are known for offering close contact between students and faculty. Class sizes are small (although they have grown in recent years) and most faculty members are extremely accessible. Many classes beyond the introductory level have fewer than 15 students.
Goucher is much more than an academic community. Most freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus, and many students choose to remain on campus for all four years. Each residence hall is divided into three to four floor areas referred to as houses. Houses often develop into close-knit communities, especially during freshman year. Each house is represented in student government through the House Council.
The school's small population means most students know each other by face,if not by name. They share waffles over Saturday brunch in the main campus dining hall, Stimson, or contend with long lines together for sandwiches and sushi at Pearlstone Cafe. Conversation here will never revolve around Greek life. Divisions among students are lessened by the absence of fraternitiesand sororities. Keg parties are hard to find.
The biggest social events on campus are school-sponsored, well-attended and fun. The year opens with Hot Steel, a popular evening-long reggae festival. House Council sponsors Pumpkin Bowl, an afternoon of games -- including a pumpkin decorating contest -- that pits houses against each other. Just after fall semester's mid-term crunch ends, roommates traditionally play matchmaker for Blind Date Ball.
Major spring activities include Casino Night, Get into Goucher Day (GIG) and the Spring Formal. At Casino Night, students don black dresses and fishnet tights or suits to take a turn at blackjack and craps, playing for prizes. On GIG, a noon chapel bell signals the end of the classes for the day. The gym area turns into a small fair and students enjoy a picnic. The students clean up their act for the Spring Formal, an evening of dinner and dancing held at downtown venues such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Hard Rock Cafe.
Some Goucher students also find time for athletics. Goucher is an NCAA Division III school with mens' and womens' teams in lacrosse, soccer, basketball, field hockey and other sports. Goucher recently expanded its athletic program to include mens' and women's track teams. All teams compete at Gopher Stadium, which opened in March 2001.
It may seem like there's little reason to leave campus and with few cars available, sometimes it's difficult. No matter. Goucher students often opt for airplanes instead of cars. The school has many international programs ranging from a full year abroad to shorter summer and winter break programs. Sites exist through Europe, Latin America and in Western and South Africa. One short-term option allows students to fulfill basic language proficiency by completing the third semester of French, not in Towson, but by studying in a French town instead.
At Goucher, the liberal arts creed of developing well-rounded, critical students is being upheld through its many academic, artistic, athletic and social opportunities.