The Women’s College Experience: Courage

Posted by: Jo Allen, President

archway looking toward fountain
Dr. Jo Allen, ’80, is the eighth president of Meredith College, a top-tier nationally ranked institution and one of the largest private colleges for women in the U.S. A national advocate for higher education, she is the first alumna to lead the 128-year-old institution. 
In this blog post, Dr. Allen discusses the importance of courage in conducting an effective college search.
As we pursue ideas, attitudes, and behaviors that make us stronger, we have all experienced situations that ask for courage – admitting a lie, telling someone you don’t want to be romantically involved, pursuing a dream, taking a risk.

President Jo Allen posing on Johnson Hall Balcony.

Courage, of course, is the “grit” or stamina to face unpleasantness or hard choices or difficult tasks. And many of us don’t give ourselves much credit for having courage. After all, having courage is, by definition, difficult. It means telling friends when we don’t want to go along with a plan; it means being a leader when leadership calls for making what may seem to be unwinnable decisions; it means taking a different path when we were awfully comfortable on the path we were on.

Recognizing courage

The truth is that courage, like many exceptional qualities (such as truthfulness, spirit, dedication), comes from practice. The more we stand up for ourselves, the easier (and less courageous) such self-advocacy becomes. It becomes part of our character – part of our nature and our way of being. What it does not mean, of course, is being arrogant in that self-advocacy – or confrontational or obstinate. In someone with true courage is a quiet dignity that is compatible with the self-awareness of knowing the right thing to do – at least in one’s own estimation and in alignment with one’s principles.
Most of all, courage doesn’t require going it alone. One of my most impressive students, when asked what she would have done differently in high school if she could do it over, responded, “I’d accept the help that was offered me.” In that moment, I knew I was looking at pure courage – not only to admit the mistake she had made by turning away the support of others, but also in admitting it was, indeed, a mistake. She truly needed help. But her pride would not allow her to accept it.

Setting your own course

I think about students making decisions about college and sadly realize how many of them make the wrong choices for themselves. In a recent Gallup Poll that surveyed college graduates, a full 51% said that if they had it to do over, they would choose a different college.
Although the poll did not ask why they chose the college they did, separate research offers that many college choices are based on finances, high school friendships, and academic programs.
It takes courage to explore, more fully, that kind of decision. Financial difficulty can be radically reconfigured through financial aid, scholarships, grants, on-campus jobs, and other forms of support. Although a couple of high school friendships may last a lifetime, very few high school friends stay in touch much beyond the first or second year of college, and a significant number dwindle after the very first semester of college.
And for students attending a college with broad offerings, undecided students find a wealth of options for majors/minors and concentrations, as do their peers who are absolutely certain they know what they want to study and choose a college with that particular program and then change their minds. After all, research shows a large majority of college students change their majors once in college, making it most important that a college has a wide offerings of options to explore.

The courage to choose the right college for YOU

As you pursue your college options, I hope you will reach out for the thoughts, experiences, and support of others to help you make a courageous choice: finding the college that fits YOU, your strengths, passions, interests, and goals. That is a fine way to shape the adult you are becoming and to embed yourself in a college experience with mentors, teachers, and friends who will support you in Going Strong.
Doesn’t that sound courageous?
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