Ara Friedman ’09 was about to walk into her first class at R-MWC when someone tried to stop her. “Don’t go in there,” the woman said.
It was August 2006, and many students were boycotting class in protest of an upcoming Board of Trustees meeting. At the meeting, the Board was expected to approve a new strategic plan that would make the College coeducational in 2007. It was the beginning of what would become a rocky transition.
A transfer student, Friedman was not focused on controversy. “Not only am I conflict averse, I also was just really excited to be there, and I just wanted to have this college experience,” she said.
Little did she know that she would eventually play a key leadership role in bringing community members back together. After the Board’s decision in September, Friedman and several of her friends thought about the type of men who would fit at Randolph. A close friend, Sequoyah Healy-Louer ’09, topped their list.
“Some of the students weren’t in favor of the transition, but once it happened, they made the best of it,” Healy-Louer said. “If there were going to be guys there, they figured, why not the ones they knew were all right.”
Healy-Louer had many female friends who had attended the College over the years, so he was well aware of its academic reputation. He toured the campus and met Bryan Waggoner, who was working to recruit the College’s first men’s soccer team. “Soccer is a really big thing for me,” he said. “I’ve always played. I wanted the chance to help start a program and play for Coach Waggoner. I really liked the approach that he has.”
Healy-Louer transferred in as a junior in the fall of 2007 when R-MWC officially changed its name to Randolph College and admitted its first coeducational class.
It was a rough year marked by conflicts, misunderstandings, and difficult choices as the College worked to improve its financial situation. Through it all, Friedman watched Healy-Louer build bridges of understanding. “One of his greatest strengths as a person is that he’s able to get along with just about anyone,” Friedman said. “He made friends with all different groups on campus.”
“It was an experience that you could not have had anywhere else… it was definitely worth being there for it and going through it.”
– Sequoyah Healy-Louer ’09
Healy-Louer said he and some other men felt a personal responsibility to help the transition go more smoothly. Waggoner reminded the soccer players of this constantly. “As the first males on campus, we definitely were under a microscope of sorts. We had to make sure that we conducted ourselves well,” he said. “I think it was good for all of us to be aware of that.”
As Friedman began her senior year, it was clear that the College still had a ways to go in bringing its community back together. As Student Government President for 2008–09, Friedman made a concerted effort to close the rift between different groups at the school. She invited Randolph President John E. Klein to numerous student government meetings to answer questions from students.
“There was no part of that process that was easy, trying to bring the different parties together,” she said. “I felt that it was a worthwhile cause and one that I kept working on the whole year.”
Four years after becoming the first male to graduate from Randolph College, Healy-Louer knows he made the right decision to attend the newly coed school. “It was an experience that you could not have had anywhere else,” he said. “It was not for the faint of heart, but it was definitely worth being there for it and going through it.”
He believes his college experience prepared him for his grassroots canvassing work for Clean Water Action in Colorado, which involves talking to many people who may or may not agree with the legislative stances his group advocates. “Being there during the transition, I learned to really try to understand where other people are coming from, and at the same time, be able to stand my ground and really present my point of view,” he said.
He added that he is happy to see the progress the College has made since his time as a student. “It seems that it has really turned a corner,” Healy-Louer said.
Even though her college years were not the easiest, Friedman believes the experience has prepared her to deal with life’s challenges. She now works in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, which sends disaster relief all over the world.
“Having the opportunity to work with students, Trustees, and the College administration through my time in Student Government helped me to refine my communication skills and was excellent preparation for my job at USAID,” she said. “R-MWC provided me with a quality of mentorship and leadership experiences that I do not think I would have received in a bigger school.”
Friedman feels optimistic about the future of her alma mater. “The element that got people the most upset back then was this fear that the sense of sisterhood and the sense of community might be lost,” she said.
But after meeting recent graduates at an alumnae and alumni chapter event, it was evident to her that the fear had not been realized. “I felt that sense of connection to them, even though the College had changed since I had been there,” Friedman said. “The sense of community was still present, even though the College is now coed.”