RALEIGH — A protest sparked by a surprise decision to open the 154-year-old Peace College to male students next year drew about 200 alumnae and their families to the campus Sunday afternoon.
They tossed roses into the fountain and criticized the administration for leaving them in the dark about a move that they say dramatically changes the school's character and mission.
"We're here because a travesty has happened at our college," said Jamie Averette Mitchell, who graduated in 2000 and lives in Zebulon.
Peace College administrators had not made their plans known until Thursday by a news release. Students said they did not find out until the college sent email after the announcement.
Distrust toward the administration and the college's board of trustees continued to grow after campus security barred reporters from attending the protest. No explanation was given for the ban, other than Peace's status as a private college.
A view from the campus's locked front gates along Peace Street just north of downtown Raleigh showed the crowd gathering around the fountain, where they sang the school's alma mater, heard a speech from one of the organizers and tossed their roses into the fountain. They finished with a loud cheer and then marched to the front gates to meet with reporters. A security guard worked at a lock for several minutes before getting it to open to let the protesters through.
School administrators, who did not appear to be at the event and could not be reached, have said they need to open the campus to men to make the school "bigger and better." The college expects the changeover to be complete in the fall of 2012.
They say the move is not being made for financial reasons, but they believe the shift will broaden Peace's market appeal. Peace would be the latest in a number of women's colleges that have converted to accept men in recent years. Many of them have done so simply to survive.
Alumnae say the changes will cost the college money it can't afford and will devalue their degrees.
Martha Grubbs Young, a 1981 graduate, said several members of her family have attended Peace over the years. They appreciated its long history as a women's college. Young said she thinks the college's announcement a few weeks before the start of the academic year was timed so that incoming freshmen such as her daughter had no choice but to attend.
"We were boxed in," she said.
Among those who turned out in protest was 93-year-old Mabel Johnson Dorsey of Raleigh, from the Class of 1937. She said she does not want to see Peace become an institution for men as well as women.
"It is the most wonderful thing here, it really is," she said. "And we need it for the women."
Her daughter, Miriam Dorsey, a 1964 graduate, said she is friends with several trustees, but they did not share their plans with her.
"I thought they would be smarter than doing things this way," she said. "I don't understand it."
The college will also be renamed William Peace University, after its founder.
Alumnae find the renaming galling too. They said William Peace gave $10,000 and eight acres of land to found the school so that it be used for the education of women.
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