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Dies Mulieres and Men in the Arena

Taylor Stockdale
As the week draws to a close, I wanted to reflect a bit on the powerful days of learning which took place on Monday and Tuesday. Most of you know that during these two days, Webb celebrated some important traditions: Men in the Arena for the boys’ school and Dies Mulieres (Day of the Woman) for the girls’ school. To the casual observer, these days might seem a little odd. Why does the Webb community devote itself to honoring the formative differences between boys and girls? How do days such as these contribute to our unique single sex/coeducational community?

A brief history: In 1922, Thompson Webb came west from Tennessee to found a boys school in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley. His father, Sawney Webb, founded Webb School of Bellbuckle (TN) a generation earlier, so it was in his blood. Webb School of California grew and evolved into a fine boys’ prep school over the next 60 years or so. In the mid to late 1970’s there was talk of adding girls, just as so many east coast boarding schools had done. Thompson Webb was actually in favor of it, but there was also a real sense that girls needed to have their own space, their own leadership opportunities, and their own traditions. Upon closer inspection of other long-time boys’ schools that had gone co-ed, it became clear that the girls were really treated as second class boys for the first several decades of combining the sexes – not because the girls were any less capable, but because the schools themselves weren’t really committed to giving up their traditions.
A very active local group of parents with daughters in Claremont had been looking to form their own girls’ school. Many of these parents also had sons who had gone to Webb and they wanted a similar, but distinctly different experience for their girls.

After much unbounded thinking and conversation, it was decided to try something different on the Webb campus. Much like the Claremont College model, it was decided to have two schools on one campus, thus Vivian Webb School was founded in 1981 here on the Webb campus. Our separate leadership opportunities, single-sex classes in the first two years, separate traditions and even separate graduations, are all aimed at recognizing the differences of boys and girls, and in doing so, creating optimal opportunities for them to find their voices as men and women of character. It’s a rather brilliant structure actually, and has become a model for educators nationwide. Given the success of our graduates (men and women), it is a tried and true method of education – one which combines the best of both worlds.

These two days embrace our two-schools-on-one-campus. On Monday, while the girls all had field trips in the greater Los Angeles area, the boys celebrated Men in the Arena with a variety of activities and workshops designed to explore what it means to be a man in today’s world. And then on Tuesday, while the boys were having field trips, the girls embarked on a day devoted to girls and women’s topics and issues. Both days on campus were marked with tremendous energy, spirit and also earnest exploration of the topics at hand. And at their core, both days focused on our mission of educating honorable leaders.

The programs themselves were quite impressive, but what really stuck out in my mind was how these days came to be. Each day was organized through the good and hard work of faculty and students and I would like to recognize them. For Men in the Arena, thank you to Kevin Quick (Chair), Scott Nichols, Bill Harris, Brian Ogden, Brandon Lopez ‘11, Lichi Dong ‘12, Jordan Burns ‘12, Bobby Gonzalez ‘13, and Wilson Parnell ‘13.

And for Dies Mulieres, thank you to Melanie Bauman (Chair), Nikki Schnupp, Betsy Potash, Belinda Lei ‘10, Lauren Gronna ‘11, Sabrina Cash ‘12, Natalie Thornton ‘13, Eunice YunSoo Kim ‘12, Rachel Zheng ‘12, Melissa Tong ‘14, Abigail Beroela ‘11, Miya Wensley ’13, and Jenny Sim ‘13.

I also want to thank Juli James and Brian Ogden for coordinating all of the field trips - along with the lead class advisors.

I hope my thumbnail sketch of the genesis for these days, and the educational model here at Webb is helpful. It’s just another example of the quality and thoughtfulness of our educational community.

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