Singleness for service: Meet the single professors of Olivet

They call themselves the “Single Bimbos.” The irony is that none of these amazing women could be considered empty-headed. Usually consisting of four or five members, this group of close-knit friends comes together for food, community support and lots of laughs.

Dr. Cathy Bareiss has been a professor of Computer Science at Olivet for almost 30 years and remembers naming the group with her friends as they joked around.

“We assigned offices based off of opposite personalities, if you were terrible with finances you got to be the treasurer,” Bareiss said. They aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves or each other.

“I remember at the beginning of the school year the [University] president has his dinner and introduces the new faculty,” said Dr. Lisa Gassin, professor of Psychology at Olivet since 1995. “I remember [Bareiss] contacting me after that saying that I seemed unattached, and asking if I wanted to join the group for lunch.”

The group tries to reach out to new single women faculty. It offers a practical aspect as well as a communal one. “Social support is a fantastic predictor of mental health and all sorts of lovely things in life. We’re pretty important people in each other’s lives,” Gassin said. The group regularly meets for meals, but is quick to aid one another in everything from hospital visits to furniture moving.

“Many of us are not actively looking,” Gassin said. “But we do lose members regularly to this marriage thing.”

The percentage of single full time faculty is surprisingly high here at Olivet. According to human resources, out of the 79 women faculty, 17 of them are single. This is compared to only three out of 106 male faculty who are not married.

While not specifically about Olivet, the book “Date-onomics” by Job Birger explains how the statistics on relationships nationally are played against certain groups of women. People tend to marry those with similar education and socioeconomic levels, but there are more than 30 percent more women graduating from college and higher degree programs than men.

“There needs to be a ‘Mentor a Single’ and a way to encourage people who are going out on their own after college. College students have really never been on their own and there should be something to help them transition when they feel like they don’t need a spouse,” Bareiss said.

Bareiss shares a story of her first years working at Olivet when the topic of her being single came up. “Gary Streit, who was in Carol Maxon’s position many years ago, came up to myself and some others and said ‘You gals need to illustrate proper dating to the girls here at freshman orientation.’ I came back and said ‘When you start hiring cute eligible single men professors we can make that happen.’ I’ve told the same thing to every [vice president] since then.”

“I think for some women it feels like a choice. Men have totally stepped up so kudos to all the men out there, but the evidence suggests that women are bearing more of the household responsibilities,” Gassin said. “The choice is do I devote myself to the home or do I devote myself to my career? For men it’s more assumed that I’m going to have both.”

Bareiss thinks there are a lot of historical implications surrounding the large numbers of single female professionals. “A long time ago if women wanted her own independence she had to be single, whereas men could still be independent and have a spouse. I am fiercely independent and it would take a special guy to put up with me. We’re still probably dealing some with that.”

“One thing that a faith orientation in general has given me is that even as you go back a couple hundred years Christianity has always had a place for single people,” Gassin said. “I believe that there is a minority in the community whose vocation may be singleness to be of service. Our faith gives a direction and affirms singleness to help the kingdom grow. Some people are called to family life, but not everybody.”

“Statistically, most people here will get married, and for those who go down that path later in life or part of the minority who will stay single it is an opportunity that you may not have with a family,” Gassin said. “Why not use that time to find those other niches that God would have you serve in.”

Erica Browning, Staff Writer

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