A boy in the girls room

Or, specifically, a male exchange student at Wellesley.

By Catherine Price

Published December 4, 2007 7:44PM (EST)

Speaking of boys in the girls room, did anyone see this article from the Boston Globe about Mohammad Usman, a 19-year-old exchange student doing a semester at Wellesley? Usman didn't technically go abroad. But as the lone guy on a campus of about 2,300 female students, he entered something of a different world.

Usman is usually a student at Dartmouth, but this semester he's taking advantage of an agreement among 11 schools in New England that allows students to apply to spend a semester at a different school. One of Usman's friends told Usman about the arrangement and the pair decided to apply to Wellesley -- but then the friend backed out, and Usman was left to go it alone.

The arrangement seems to have worked out well for Usman. He has his own room and bathroom -- and a lot of attention. He's known throughout Wellesley as "the boy," and even those students who have never met him in person know he's around. Keeping with procedure, Wellesley assigned him a "big sister" mentor, and if the picture in the Globe is to be believed, he has been welcomed by many of his new classmates -- it shows him reclining on a bed in a student dorm room, hanging out with several women as they all make holiday decorations.

From what I can gather from the article, Usman -- who's a government and geography double major, and whose parents, both immigrants from Pakistan, run a variety store in the Bronx -- didn't have many, er, academic reasons for the exchange. (He wanted to live near Boston? He thought it would be an interesting experience?) He also kept the details secret from his parents, leading to my favorite quote from the article: "His parents, who dropped him off on campus, were surprised to see so many women, mostly because Usman had failed to tell them that Wellesley was a women's college." Oops.

I think Usman's story is great, and I've got to hand it to him for following through with his plan. (I had a male friend in college who signed up for a semester at an all-women's college in Seville, but he chickened out at the last minute.) It's too bad, though, that this sort of playful joke wouldn't really work in the opposite direction -- most stories I've read about female students infiltrating all-male campuses deal with experiences that are a bit more ominous -- or at least less positive -- than making holiday snowflakes.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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