Deep Springs College: Coed: To Be Or Not To Be?

Hi— This is my argument paper for TMCC. I’m still not happy with it so I will continue revising, but for a rough draft it’s ok and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was when I turned it in. I got an A- on it. Also, I’ve been putting up some of my writing under the TMCC tab, not necessarily things I have written for TMCC. Just things that are too long for a post.

Recently when I was looking through the Deep Springs Website, I found this:

11.26.14 Court Issues Ruling on Trust Modification

Judge Stout of the Inyo County Superior Court has issued a decision directing that the LL Nunn Trust be modified. The conclusion of his decision (page 51) reads, in part:

The Court hereby decrees that the L.L. Nunn Trust should be modified by substituting the word “people” for “men” in the phrase “for the education of promising young men” in paragraph 1 of the instrument.

We won’t know how this decision impacts the future until more details are ironed out over the next few weeks. We will post ongoing news here as it becomes available.

Consideration of applications for the class entering in July 2015 is (of necessity) already well advanced; we are *not* currently accepting applications from women for the upcoming year.


So, that’s that. It’s official. I figure that they will have it figured out by the time I am ready. Now it’s a matter of getting in. I’m nervous, but it’s a relief that the legalities are finally over. So without further ado, here’s the paper. Fortunately, it’s not so relevant now:


Deep Springs College lies off of California Route 268, a patch of dubious green in the middle of Deep Springs Valley’s high desert; a working cattle ranch and college an hour away from the nearest “civilization”. Isolated, academic, self-governed, small, labor intense, tuition free, completely unique- and all-male. In 2011, however, the decision to begin the process of going coed was reached by the Trustees and the Deep Springs community. Only one word stands in the way of women wishing to enter Deep Springs College: men.

Deep Springs runs on the belief that labor responsibilities, self-governance, and intense academics prepare young men for a life of service to their communities. Students cook, irrigate the fields, slaughter, cowboy, and otherwise manage the cattle operation, convene on Fridays to discuss and vote on issues concerning the college, play soccer, take classes, and study. Philosophical questions are posed over the dinner table, and ice cream straight from the dairy. The 26 students are unable to leave the valley during term due to a strict, self-regulated isolation policy. All of this makes a well-knit brotherhood, where cohabitation abilities are essential to sanity, class participation is high, and failure to meet responsibilities has clear ramifications within the community. Most students go to Deep Springs not because it’s all-male but because it is a unique experience not offered in any other single-sex or coed school. Many would-be applicants decide not to go because it isn’t coed.

I visited Deep Springs for the fourth time of my life this fall. I remember, as a nine year old, the mountains on the way to Deep Springs from Reno, the Sierras crowning the blue horizon, their granite jagged against the immediate sweeping slopes. This time the mountains were dark silhouettes and the night air cold and black. We drove through the canyon into Deep Springs Valley well after dark, the car flying over the road’s rollercoaster rises and falls, rocketing through the single-car wide canyons, high beams on, brothers and I laughing hysterically. Suddenly we broke through into the valley, and the road evened out, and the car was silent again as we drove in the night, the college hidden ahead in the darkness.

In 1917, Lucien Lucius Nunn founded Deep Springs College based upon his experience training and educating young men as employees for his company, Telluride Power. L. L. Nunn became increasingly interested in education but was dissatisfied with the distractions of college life, including women and alcohol, leading to his purchase of the isolated Deep Springs Ranch and the founding of the college. He wrote the Deed of Trust for Deep Springs, a constitution and an endowment, two years before his death in 1925.

When the Trustees of Deep Springs voted to proceed with the process of going coed with a 7-2 vote in the fall of 2011, they and the college plunged headlong into a drawn-out legal battle with the two dissenting trustees Kinch Hoekstra and Edward Keonjian. On one side, opponents of coeducation stand behind the Trust written by L. L. Nunn. The other front, and the broad majority, argues that coeducation would benefit the college by increasing intellectual diversity, by giving a more realistic view of outside society, and by advancing the educational purposes of the college.

The legal progress has been slow for coeducation, mainly because there hasn’t been a huge amount of dedicated court time. The original petition for coeducation focuses on the potential power that the trustees have to interpret or alter the deed of trust, and particularly this one line: “for the education of promising young men”. The respondents reply with this objection:

“The Trustees are legally (and morally) bound to carry out the purpose of the Trust. They are not permitted to substitute their preferences for the express stipulations of the trustor L. L. Nunn… (The trustees) decided that they had the discretion to take the vote… Respondent Trustees, Kinch Hoekstra and Edward Keonjian, believe that the Trustees did not and do not have such discretion.”

But isn’t it the trustee’s job, to not only protect the trust, but to change it when the times necessitate? Although the objectors point out that the college is thriving, and single-sex colleges are not illegal, the trustees have considerable power to interpret the trust in good times and in bad in order to further the growth of the college for the purpose of “the education of young men,” or as L. L. Nunn referred to the leaders which he sought to educate, the “few”.

It still comes back to that one phrase. How does education and our younger culture differentiate today from a hundred years ago? What influenced L. L. Nunn to write explicitly in his trust “for the education of young men,” and how morally and legally bound is a college to follow the wishes of its founder and visionary, however long ago he lived?

There are important historical reasons for Deep Spring’s founding as an all-male institution that may not be as significant or valid today. Although it is true, as the opponents point out, that coeducation was prevalent at the time, with 70% of women in college enrolled in a coeducational school, and that the rate of women and men going to college was more or less equal in the early 1900s, this is not to say that the education that women were receiving was equal and without much social discrimination. Women took classes in home economics, teaching, and nursing, and while other degrees were pursued, social restrictions often did not allow them to apply their learning to ‘manlier’ jobs.

Beginning during WWI and continuing into the 1920s women gained new freedom of expression leading to flapper culture. College was a largely social affair for both genders, “petting” parties were prevalent, and with the end of prohibition young women established and embraced drinking and smoking. Older generations were shocked by this new, sinful lifestyle of materialism and sexuality. Obviously this influenced L. L. Nunn’s founding ideals, all-male student body, and his location of Deep Springs as far away as possible from modern debauchery. Although sexuality is still a large part of our society today, Deep Spring’s ideals of genuine academic involvement and hard manual work are already proven to find people profoundly dedicated to the purposes of the college and to their education; these same ideals would prove the same for women seeking to come to Deep Springs.

Legally, those opposing coeducation have the upper hand, with arguments for coeducation having no legal power until single-sex colleges become illegal, the current all-male policy cripples the college, or pigs fly. However the college has the moral right to advance its purpose of training young leaders free from the distractions of the outside world; eventually, and soon, that purpose will include women.

Although L. L. Nunn’s unique vision of higher education has shaped the college’s ideals and the young men who have studied and worked here, this place and its legacy and history are bigger than any one person or gender. It is the work and dedication of the people, both men and women, who have called this place home over the past hundred years that has made it what it is; it is sacred ground. That’s why I can’t fault either Kinch Hoekstra or Ed Keonjian for their decision to fight coeducation; I understand that they are protecting something important to them. Yet it is important to me too. The fact is at this point women aren’t allowed an opportunity to become part of something so utterly unique because of something they didn’t choose, their gender, and because of two people, with the privilege of being male, standing behind one word.

Going coed, Deep Springs will remain diverse, influential, and unique. Although being all-men was an important factor for the college in the 1920’s, and attracted proper young men who wanted nothing to do with flapper culture, this is not so today. In today’s world where women are equal, maintaining a college to train leaders in which half of the demographic is not represented disadvantages the students with an unrealistic view of the outside world. Coeducation will bring new ideas, perspectives, and diversity to the experience at Deep Springs as it enters its second century.

Back at Deep Springs, the sun is going down on the second day. I am in front of the main building, waiting for an alumni meeting on coeducation. In front of the building is the main circle, a field of grass with two goals, where a couple of students are kicking a soccer ball around. With a second’s hesitation I join them. Introduce myself.

Soon more guys come and a soccer game is going. I score a goal, make a few good passes. I think I’ve surprised them, impressed them. I’ve been playing soccer coed my entire life. To me, my gender and that of others is something arbitrary, a second thought.

These guys play soccer with the same intensity that they dedicate to their academics here, their work. This dedication is something rare, and something that I crave. I’ve never been in a place where my peers really care about their learning and go about their everyday work with enthusiasm, but it is something that I have yearned and searched for. I haven’t seen it anywhere but here.

These are the people who are fighting for coeducation. In all likelihood they won’t be here to see it, but they have faith that what they are doing is the right choice for this place, and that the fight will continue.

As the dinner bell rings and the alumni come out from the coeducation meeting, we keep playing. The sky grows dark and the game breaks up, and I can’t help but hope that by showing how a girl can become part of this community by playing soccer, maybe I have made a difference.