Male trailblazers at Moore College of Art

One of the first two male students at Moore College of Art and Design, Ben Panter attends a class with (from left) Kelly Vignola, Wendelyn Anderson, and Sarah Gersbach. The 162-year-old school by law had to begin admitting male students when it began offering graduate programs.
One of the first two male students at Moore College of Art and Design, Ben Panter attends a class with (from left) Kelly Vignola, Wendelyn Anderson, and Sarah Gersbach. The 162-year-old school by law had to begin admitting male students when it began offering graduate programs.
Posted: July 11, 2010

Brad Rosenau is the first one here.

His spiral notebook is out, yellow highlighter beside it, and a team of backup pens lines his right pocket. He is ready to discuss the week's reading.

"You can't hide in a class this small. They notice when you're not here," he says, scratching his goatee. "Or, at least, when I'm not here."

Such is the trailblazer's curse at Philadelphia's Moore College of Art and Design, which has, for the first time in its 162 years, accepted male students. Rosenau, 47, and Ben Panter, 24, began graduate classes the last week of June, Rosenau for a master's degree in art education and Panter for one in studio art.

While Rosenau fancies himself "the Jackie Robinson of [Moore's] unisex bathrooms," the school's decision to admit men had less to do with brazen barrier-breaking than with a legal mandate. To found a graduate component last summer, Moore had to comply with a 1982 Supreme Court case barring single-sex admission. The roughly 500-woman undergraduate college retains single-sex status as one of roughly 60 programs grandfathered into the ruling.

"Moore is so branded in people's imagination as an all-women's institution," says Ian Verstegen, director of the school's graduate programs, which enroll 33 students. "But we've always been ready for men."

Administrators - many of them male, Verstegen notes - welcomed men into last summer's initial graduate class but failed to secure any commitments. Now, less than two weeks into this summer's session, the novelty has yet to wear off.

"A lot of my friends have joked about how 'groundbreaking' I am," says Panter, of Pennsauken, arms stretched in six-foot air-quotes. "I just want to justify the decision to make it [coed]. You don't want to be a footnote."

With the assimilation in its infant stages, the two men have countered the estrogen surplus in their own ways. (Other than on an orientation day, their programs seldom interact.)

Panter - or perhaps wife, Melissa, his college sweetheart from Rutgers University - planted a his-and-hers coffee cup, festooned with a picture collage of the duo, in his corner of the studio.

Rosenau, according to classmate Tanya Harrison, has begged their lunch group to work the Phillies into a conversation thread once in a while. In one seminar last week, he punctuated a discussion of special-needs education with a reference to the horse's-head scene in The Godfather.

"It's a different perspective from a male," says Harrison, 35, one of two students who allowed herself a small chuckle at the Godfather line. "But it's more real life. There's not always going to be all females."

Paul Hubbard, director of the studio art program, says he believes that any perceived gender disparities in the classroom are overblown. In his 40-plus years in the field, he says, he has found no "intellectual, philosophical, or practical difference" in the way men and women confront their education.

"The only difference is in the way men will approach moving heavy objects," he says.

The meaning of the metaphor?

"Not a metaphor," insists the man who hangs a naked mannequin by its feet from a pipe in his office. "They tend to dip their shoulder, push, then lift."

Margaret Hine, 26, who shares a wall of studio space with Panter, hopes Moore's shift will help erode any preconceptions about men interested in art and design.

"Boys can play with dolls," she says. "They don't have to be called action figures."

While the men say they welcome the responsibility of their status - and expect male enrollment to increase - both are, of course, focused primarily on their own ambitions.

Panter hopes to wire himself into the Philadelphia art scene, and a class with prominent local painter Moe Brooker is a start. As a former long-term substitute teacher with a zeal for the trade, Panter also welcomes the resumé boost a graduate degree may lend.

Rosenau expects to add to his educational repertoire as well. A high school art teacher at Middle Bucks Institute of Technology since 1993, the Souderton native chose Moore because of its emphasis on teaching strategies for children with special needs.

"I never even thought about the gender issues," Rosenau says. "And maybe that's significant. It shows how inclusion is working."

Still, as Rosenau quietly relishes the academic offer he couldn't refuse, Panter is - in the artist's tradition - doing his best to avoid blending in. As classmates experiment with sewing needles, sable brushes, and sketches of tiny birds, Panter is tinkering with weightier materials. His current project, if plans hold, will encompass light fixtures, transparent paper, a three-dimensional installation, and 11-foot prints of photographs he took in the Wildwoods, combining to create the effect of - well, he's not entirely sure yet.

"Maybe the expansiveness of the space," he says - the solitary feeling of being the only man in a forest so vast. "That's what I get when I look at it."

But don't, he pleads, read too much into that.


Contact staff writer Matt Flegenheimer at 215-854-5614 or mflegenheimer@phillynews.com.

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