July 25, 2003, p.10-11
The 13 Men Who Changed FSC
By Charlie Breitrose, Staff Writer
Tectonic shifts in American society rumbled from sea to shining sea in the 1960's, with racial and gender barriers collapsing in the wake.
Framingham State College was no exception, but it was the males who were the pioneers in 1964 as 13 young men became the first male students on campus.
As the college celebrates 150 years in town this year, the first group of men to graduate marked the 35th anniversary of their graduation. FSC President Helen Heineman said the entrance of the first male students shook up the, until then, a small women's college.
"A lot of people felt that it would destroy the college," Heineman said. "As a matter of fact, it brought us into the 20th century and into modern life."
While the young men did not need National Guard protection to go to class, they weren't always greeted with open arms, said Paul Willitts, one of the original 13.
"It took a while for the upperclassmen to get used to us," Willitts said.
The college had no dorm for the men, so everyone had to commute, Willitts recalls. The guys ate at a commuter dorm in a building now occupied by the Christa McAuliffe Challenger Center, Willitts said.
Despite not living together, the guys stuck close together that first year.
"We pretty much stuck together as a pack," Willitts said. "If you saw one of us, you would see all of us."
In class, many times, the men found themselves the odd man in the crowd, said Richard Cunningham, who arrived with the second class of men admitted to FSC.
"Most of the classes were all female," said Cunningham, who now teaches English at the college, as well as at Ashland High School. "You might have a male or two."
Retired FSC English professor Mary Murphy said she was outspoken against men enrolling, but after they arrived she found they brought a spark to her classes.
"I was for keeping it a one gender school," she said. "I thought it should stay the same, and said that publicly."
In her undergraduate days, Murphy attended Trinity College a women's college in Washington D.C. She thought an all-female college offered different opportunities for women.
The fall that the men arrived, low and behold, Murphy found all had been assigned to her freshman English classes. The atmosphere in the classroom changed, but for the better, in Murphy's opinion.
They were so outspoken and strong minded," she recalled. "I enjoyed having them in my class. It made class more lively."
The college had not worked out all the kinks by the time the guys arrived.
"My freshman year, there was no male dorm," Willitts said. "They didn't have gym classes or sports for us."
Back then, gym class was a must for those seeking to become an elementary school educator, like Willitts.
"They told us no one would graduate because we were required to take phys. ed."
Eventually one of the math professors volunteered to lead the men's gym class.
The men did not have a lot of traditions or activities in the first few years - no school ring or jacket, and no sports.
The guys made a few waves, Willitts recalled, when they decided to start their own traditions. The college had school blazers for the women at the college, but no male equivalent had been established, so the men took things into their own hands.
"All the guys got together, because we didn't want to where the white jackets the women wore," Willitts said.
The men ordered jackets with leather sleeves and blue cloth with "F State" written on them from a company in Boston.
"We all wore them one day and the dean of women saw us wearing them, so we got in trouble," he said. "She said it should have been voted on by the student government and the alumni."
The men had one person looking out for them, Willitts said. FSC President Justin McCarthy knew all of them.
"The girls were amazed, we would be walking along and the president would come over and shake our hands," Willitts said. "He kept track of us."
An important step to make the men feel part of the college, Cunningham said, was the creation of sports teams.
"I don't think there were any dorms (for men), and we weren't on campus except for class," he said. "I think sports was important, it gave (the men) an identification with the college."
In 1967-68 the college formed the first basketball team, which Cunningham joined.
One of the advantages of being one of the first men was the odds for dating were stacked in their favor.
"Our odds were about 100 to one," he said. "Back then, the rules were strict. Girls weren't allowed off campus after 9:30p.m. and boys weren't allowed in the dorms."
Willlitts used the odds to his favor. He met his wife Leslee while the two were at FSC.
"One of the dances, the junior prom or ring dance, I took her to that, and we dated after than," Willitts said. "We've been with each other since."
The men did not necessarily choose FSC because they wanted to be pioneers. Location and cost played a bigger role for Willitts and Cunningham.
Willitts grew up in Framingham, and could get to campus in five minutes.
"At the time, I applied to (now defunct) Boston State College and Framingham," he said. "I was accepted at Framingham and never applied anywhere else."
Tuition cost $200 a year in 1964, and Willitts was able to work on campus to pay this.
Willitts' guidance counselor at Marian High School directed him to the college. "One of the nuns over there thought I would make a good teacher, and recommended I go there," Willitts said. "I decided to go there, and I'm still teaching."
For 35 years Willitts has taught science and math to youngsters in Holliston. He currently teaches fifth grade at Miller Elementary School.
Cunningham grew up in Ashland, so Framingham was convenient, but the price was the deciding factor.
"It was an affordable education," he said. "I was accepted to other places, but (FSC) was affordable to me I paid my own way."