Learning to Tell my own Stories
by Pamela Simmons
On June 7, 1995, in the one hundred and seventeenth year of the University of Western Ontario, I sat in anticipation of my future as I waited to be convocated. As the air conditioning began to take affect on my body, my mind wandered. I looked towards my future in freelance writing and contemplated how I came to choose this particular goal.
Watching students A through R receive their degrees I noticed just how many were women. Not long ago the entire group would have been male, professors and students. On this day, only one of a week long convocation, over 136 women received their degrees in the Honours Bachelor of Arts program alone. As a woman, these growing numbers are of interest to me but, as a woman writer, I am more concerned with the quality of education I received from the traditionally male dominated and male oriented world of the university.
At the start of my Arts degree I was permitted only to take one English course, and that was fine because I was more interested in anthropology and archaeology. The course I took was a survey entitled Forms of Fiction. Two of the very few women writers on the syllabus were Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Pride and Prejudice by Austen was likened to a soap opera by my professor and Woolf's To the Lighthouse was described as a tedious and terrible read. I disagreed, but most of the class did not. Introducing a class to women's writing in the manner that my professor did likely turned many students, male and female, away from the subject. The very fact that these two novels were different than the other writing in the course attracted me, creating an interest that lasts today.
The Honours English program at Western, in which I decided to enroll, allows its students to take almost any of the required courses at any time during the four years of the program. With the number of courses to choose from, a student could still end up with a very traditional education steeped in canonical principles. But it is no longer impossible for a student in this program to gain a more diverse and representational knowledge of the literary world. With the growing number of women professors on staff, women students have the opportunity to choose a course of study which best serves their needs and interests. In a time when a university degree is a growing requirement for success in any career, high quality education is an asset to success and survival for all people. As a writer, the ability to get the most out of my university years was and still is very important.