Donna Campbell : A WOMAN FROM 1972
Claire Heininger | Wednesday, February 18, 2004
s the first females to attend Notre Dame in 1972, Donna Campbell and her peers expected skepticism from their professors and friction from their male classmates. They didn’t expect a beauty contest in the dining hall.”I’ll never forget it – when we were in the cafeteria line, the boys used to have rating systems,” Campbell said. “They’d put up cards, 9.0, 10.0, 8.5, as we walked by.”Mealtime appraisals were only one predicament that the women had to adjust to. A more significant challenge, Campbell said, was the widespread expectation of her male classmates that because she spoke as a female, she spoke as every female.”Being asked for your opinion in a classroom to represent the whole female race – as if there’s not 20,000 different opinions, just one female opinion – that struck me as very strange,” she said. Yet it was this chance to speak up, both for herself and for others, and to contribute to the academic discourse at an institution as prominent as Notre Dame that drew Campbell and her identical twin sister Denise to apply in the first place.Coming from the Chicago area, Campbell aimed for a top-level university in the Midwest. “It’s not like today, when you see kids applying all over the country,” she said.And with a full background of Catholic education from grade school on up, she added, Notre Dame’s Catholicism was another advantage. It seemed like the only college that fit the regional, academic and religious profile she aspired to. But there was a catch: the decision to admit women had not yet been finalized.”At the time we were applying, it was still not sure,” she said. As soon as it was, though, so was Campbell. “I’ll never forget the Chicago Tribune front page saying ‘Notre Dame going co-ed,'” she said. “I thought, ‘Ah, this is it! I’m supposed to go here!'”Once Campbell arrived, she found herself among a diverse group of women enrolled in various majors and hailing from all over the country. “We had lots of Arts and Letters, some archies, a biology, a business,” she said of her close friends. However, they all had one thing in common: they were confident that they belonged here just as much as the male students did.”We knew that we were all in this together,” Campbell said of the bond she felt with the other members of the first female class. “We did face male dominance throughout the university, and stereotyping females did occur.” She added that while those looking back may focus on the discrimination and barriers that the women were up against, she chooses to remember the time as a revolutionary step for a conservative institution.”We were very excited to be given the opportunity to become part of a great decision,” Campbell said. “I always look at the positive side.”Campbell, who lived in Walsh Hall as a freshman and moved to Farley Hall for her final three years, added that the women’s intellectual contributions – “we were such a small group of females, so we were seen as the eggheads” she said – became even more valuable when combined with what they brought to the social scene.”All of the sudden there were hall parties, there were girls’ dorms sponsoring formal dances,” she said. She explained that the dynamic of a slightly uptight, entirely male culture began to shift to reflect the atmosphere that existed at other universities across the country.”Socially, it became a little more of the norm of what was going on on co-ed campuses elsewhere,” Campbell said.She added that while males at Notre Dame already interacted with females in an academic setting by taking classes with Saint Mary’s students, their adjustment to social interaction was harder to make. It was also more of a shock for some than for others. “The freshmen boys weren’t quite as put off as the upperclassmen,” she said. “But they all got used to it. They learned.”They learned that the sense of belonging was mutual. And they learned that co-education at Notre Dame was an idea worthy of a perfect 10.