Feature image via glaad.org
In August 2012, my good friend Calliope Wong, who is a trans woman, decided to apply to Smith College. She could not find any information on Smith’s admissions policy for trans women online, but had heard different things from different people about whether she could apply and why. She created a tumblr to explain her situation and ask for help, in addition to contacting the admissions office to ask for clarification. Dean of Admissions Debra Shaver responded to Calliope’s inquiry, saying that if Calliope’s application and supporting documents “consistently read as female,” she would be eligible for admission. A policy that requires trans female applicants to “pass” to the administration’s approval such as the one Smith presented to Calliope is discriminatory and prevents many who would benefit immensely from a women’s college environment from having access to that space. Luckily, Calliope was able to fulfill Shaver’s requirements, thanks to generally supportive parents, teachers, and school administrators. She applied for admission to the Class of 2017 last fall.
At her request, I’m here to present the conclusion to her story.
Calliope announced in a March 10th post on her blog that Smith had returned her application for the second and final time. The first time, her application and fee were returned due to a “male” gender marker on her transcript. Calliope and her guidance counselor, despite some confusion, finally managed to correct the error and sent the application materials back to Smith. On March 5th, her application was once again mailed back to her. Debra Shaver, Dean of Admissions at Smith, told Calliope that the “male” marker on her FAFSA forms rendered her ineligible for consideration.
Observing this “technicality” a bit more closely, two important problems come to light. First of all, using an applicant’s FAFSA information as a determining factor in their eligibility for admission presents an inherent class bias. Secondly, the Department of Education does not cross-reference the FAFSA gender marker with what is written on one’s current Social Security card or other federal documents. Members of Smith Q&A, a group working for trans woman inclusion at Smith, contacted Jon O’Bergh, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. O’Bergh referred them to Cameron Washington, the Web Usability Specialist at FAFSA. Both O’Bergh and Washington emphasized that the gender marker on the FAFSA is used to make sure those who mark “male” sign up for the Selective Service before receiving federal aid. The U.S. Department of Education does not in any way track, check, or cross-reference the gender students mark on the FAFSA. Therefore, a women’s college that chooses to accept an applicant whose FAFSA gender marker reads “male” faces no legal federal consequences whatsoever.
FAFSA forms aside, even if Calliope had not needed or requested financial aid, would she have been eligible for admission? Quite frankly, probably not. If this had been the case, the admissions office could have found many other reasons not to admit her. In fact, they never needed a reason at all: private colleges can deny admission to anyone without justifying their decision. Dean Shaver’s decision to deny Calliope the right to have her application read at all therefore communicates a clear and deliberate message to the school’s applicants, current students and alumni.
Calliope is not the only trans woman to have applied to Smith in recent years with unfavorable results. Bryn Kelly, a former applicant to Smith’s Ada Comstock program for non-traditional students, replied to Calliope’s tumblr post with her own story. In 2010, Kelly applied to Smith with an excellent community college GPA, an impressive reputation as an up-and-coming performing artist, and glowing recommendations. She had all her gender markers in order, including those on her FAFSA, except one: her high school transcript, which was impossible to change. Kelly had a friend in the admissions office who advocated for her, resulting in the admissions officers “allowing” her application to be read and processed despite the inconsistency in gender. She was not admitted. Again, since private colleges are not legally obligated to accept anyone, we cannot definitively say that it was because she was trans. She writes, “Certainly my rejection letter contained that old soft blow, ‘we received so many qualified applicants this year…’ and I’m sure they did. But given that I have never heard of an out trans woman being accepted at Smith, I have to wonder.”
The Smith College administration has not directly commented on or responded to the vast amounts of criticism they have received for refusing to read Calliope’s application. However, on March 22nd, Smith updated its “Gender Identity & Expression” page with new information regarding the institutional policy on trans applicants. In response to the question, “How does Smith consider applicants from transgender students?” the page repeats what Dean Shaver told Calliope in their previous correspondence: “An application from a transgender student is treated no differently from other applications: every application Smith receives is considered on a case-by-case basis. Like most women’s colleges, Smith expects that, to be eligible for review, a student’s application and supporting documentation (transcripts, recommendations, etc.) will reflect her status as a woman.” The next question on the page asks, “What documents are part of Smith’s admission process?” The response lists the standard Common Application, transcript, midyear report, and recommendations. Noticeably absent from the list is the FAFSA or any documents not directly related to admission. Thus, according to the policy on Smith’s website, Calliope’s application should have been eligible for review.
By refusing to comment on the incident, it remains ambiguous whether Smith College acknowledges that discriminating against Calliope based on her FAFSA gender marker was a mistake. It’s possible that this recent website update functions as Smith’s subtle adjustment of its policies in order to refrain from public apology. However, this policy “adjustment” merely allows the administration to keep its trans admission policy opaque and veiled from outside criticism. It’s important to note that even if Smith were to cease discriminating against applicants with male gender markers on their FAFSA, its policy is still far too rigid to be amenable to many teenage trans women. Acquiring consistently “female” transcripts and recommendations requires the applicant to have the full support and understanding of her school administration, making it easy for Smith to continue to return applications based on bureaucratic error. This need for the high school administration’s support automatically restricts the access of applicants who would most benefit from a women’s college environment, barring the entry of those who might have attended high schools insensitive to their identification. A more understanding policy would allow mismatching documentation if accompanied by an appropriate letter from a doctor or therapist, much in the manner of the policy of the State of Massachusetts in order to change gender markers on state identification.
Ironically, Smith College’s inhospitality toward trans women ultimately threatens, rather than upholds, their institutional image as a women’s college. As Katherine Kraschel states in her article for the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, an educational institution may retain its single-sex status only if it can prove that it is helping to achieve a civil rights objective. Trans women in particular are excluded from women-only and men-only spaces based on their gender identity and/or genitalia. Excluding trans women from women’s colleges continues the institutional oppression and marginalization of people based on their gender identity. This therefore places Smith’s admissions policy in direct conflict with the trans rights movement and with its “civic-minded,” “empowering” image as a whole.
It’s also important to note that while Smith has yet to admit an out trans woman, it and other women’s colleges are rapidly becoming known as safe havens for trans men. The “Gender Identity & Expression” page on the Smith College website notes, “Once admitted, any student who completes the college’s graduation requirements — regardless of gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation — will be awarded a Smith degree.” This means that a trans man whose documents still read “female” can easily apply for admission and transition while at Smith without being asked to leave or refused a Smith degree. Because of this policy, trans men are a small but conspicuous minority at Smith, and have been for some time. Many students feel that women’s colleges are, or could be, safe havens for anyone marginalized or oppressed by their gender identity. However, the administration’s ongoing refusal to admit anyone who was not assigned female at birth continually denies these marginalized groups a safe space.
Ultimately, Smith College’s actions fail to acknowledge that civil rights discourses in the 21st century have become much more fluid and inclusive than in previous decades, especially as more and more people begin to discount the gender binary. On its “History” page, the College describes its overarching goals and interests as, “an uncompromising defense of academic and intellectual freedom, an attention to the relation between college education and the larger public issues of world order and human dignity, and a concern for the rights and privileges of women.” In order for Smith to continue to fulfill its stated mission, it must adjust its policies to reflect the changing discourse surrounding gender and sexuality by admitting both trans men and trans women. By deliberately excluding an entire marginalized group from admission, the college silences them and diminishes the importance of their fight to access women’s spaces. If Smith and other women’s colleges wish to continue to move discussion of gender identity and equality forward, they must acknowledge that the process underpinning an applicant’s gender identification is more complicated than “just checking female.”
Whether or not they decide to pursue legal action, it is up to Smith students to respond to their administration’s blatant transmisogyny. The group Smith Q&A is currently mobilizing to fight on Calliope’s behalf. On March 13th, the group held a meeting open to all Smith students intended to clarify the week’s events and launch an awareness campaign.
The group has since met with administrators to informally present their concerns. Although the administration did not formally negotiate with Q&A, they provided several relevant pieces of information: first, that the admissions office was using a formal definition of the phrase “supporting documentation” to include all documents submitted to and reviewed by the college, regardless of their relevance. The Smith College website claims that Smith is need-blind for the overwhelming majority (96-99%) of applicants — those who receive the highest ratings from admissions officers – but that once the aid budget is exhausted, it may make decisions for the remaining 1-4% based on need, in which case the admissions office would review the FAFSA and use it to make an admissions decision. Even so, this does not by any means excuse the administration’s actions: the FAFSA is still not officially part of the admissions process, and it is still not listed as a relevant document on their Gender Identity web page.
Q&A has also met with lawyers to create a list of demands, which they finalized at their April 3rd meeting. On Tuesday April 9th, Q&A will present this list of demands to the Smith Student Senate along with an overview of the school’s discrimination against trans women. On Wednesday April 10th, the organization will hold a fireside chat with students to discuss trans women at Smith. Finally, on Thursday Q&A will present their change.org petition and list of demands to the administration. In addition, the Fully Functional Cabaret, an all trans woman performance group whose cast includes former Ada Comstock applicant Bryn Kelly, will be performing at Smith at 8 PM Thursday evening.
Q&A’s List of Demands to the Smith College Administration:
1. Smith College will provide consistent support to trans women applicants throughout the application process and provide them with transparent information about policy and an equal opportunity for acceptance regardless of medical and legal transition status.
2. Smith College administrators will openly publish a statement on a visible page of the admissions website with the current admissions policy regarding trans women applicants before the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.
3. Smith College will create an affirmative, transparent policy regarding trans women applicants and will make it readily accessible on the Smith website.
A.) Should there be inconsistent or non-female gender markers or ambiguity about how an applicant identifies her gender, Smith admissions will request a supplemental document containing additional confirmation from another source. The list of people who may verify the applicant’s identity will include but is not limited to medical doctors, school administrators, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, advisors, clergy members, employers, etc. This supplement will confirm that the student’s gender identity is female and will override inconsistent or non-female gender markers or ambiguity. Admissions will then consider the application as if there were no inconsistencies.
B.) Smith College admissions staff will be welcoming and knowledgeable about issues that trans women applicants may face and provide assistance in the application process.
4. Smith will facilitate creation of an alumnae scholarship fund for trans women applicants who are concerned about how gender markers will affect the processing of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
5. Our new president, President Kathleen McCartney, will be present at a panel hosted by Q&A for trans women and student organizers to discuss the problem of trans exclusion from women’s colleges in the Fall of 2013.
6. Smith College will include information about issues specific to trans women and other individuals affected by transphobia and transmisogyny in faculty, staff, and student diversity trainings.
7. Once students are admitted, preferred name will be used on OneCard, directory, Moodle, email, Bannerweb, graduation materials, and all other Smith documentation.
8. Smith College will make available online a semesterly report about the number of openly trans women who have applied and the number who have been accepted, while preserving anonymity.
9. This outline will be seriously considered by administrators and responded to with a full, point-by-point report of how each demand will be implemented, or why specifically it has been denied. The administration will create a committee on trans* policy that meets monthly (similarly to the Diversity Committee or Sustainability Committee). This committee will consist of members of all RCSG Orgs who want to send a representative, a member of admissions, a dean, members of the Smith faculty, and an Area Coordinator. Additionally, Smith will provide a progress report on these demands each semester.
We believe that these demands are essential for a safe and inclusive environment at Smith and for the college to continue its historical mission of educating women and tradition of standing at the forefront of women’s issues.
Q&A can be reached on Facebook and Tumblr. Have something to say? To contact Dean Shaver, email admission [at] smith.edu or call 413-585-2500. Don’t forget to sign the petition, whether or not you are affiliated with Smith College.
About the author: Sarah Giovanniello is a freshman in Yale College. She is a staff writer for Broad Recognition.
Trans Woman Denied Admission to Smith College: Why “Just Checking Female” is More Complicated Than it Sounds was originally published on broadrecognition.com Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.
Kudos to Smith Q&A for their efforts. And thank you Sarah for a far more thoughtful response to this issue than just saying “Smith is a very queer positive school” (for some, maybe, but absolutely not for others). Yes, the students and alumni attending Smith do have a responsibility to speak out on this if they want real change. They have decided to attend a school with an admissions policy of exclusion of an entire class of women. Their tuition funds and those who don’t speak out is tacit support of the school’s policy. Only very recently did the Sophian even bother covering this issue (weeks after Calliope’s case was all over the media). That’s seriously messed up.
Thanks so much for this article, Sarah!
As someone who helped change a non-discrimination policy at a private, Catholic college in MA, I know that it can be incredibly discouraging to realize that a college can essentially do whatever it wants, regardless of state law, if it is private. That being said, if enough of an argument is made to prove that what they are doing is wrong, administrators of such colleges will listen.
Keep making lots of noise, gather support from alumni, faculty, staff, students, and trustees, and continue to spread the word online and through meetings with key administrators. If people are willing to withhold funding until something is done, that really helps (but don’t take credit for encouraging that, because it can get you into a sticky situation). Reach out to groups at other colleges who agree with your stance and will act as a support, showing that this issue is both deeply personal and bigger than just what’s happening currently at Smith.
Keep your heads up, Smith Q&A. You’re doing all the right things.
I agree with most everything stated, however the Kraschel quote seems a little out of place. Women’s colleges ARE continuing to help a civil rights objective, beyond simply admitting trans women, as evidenced by the fact that they are churning out a huge portion of women leaders in this country and around the world. It’s not as though admitting trans women is the only thing left to achieve full equality for women.
All that being said, I think Q&A’s best bet is to go after the alumnae. At women’s colleges, alumnae have a huge amount of power. Those impeccably dressed little old ladies get what they want.
As a Smith alum, I can tell you that we are not a folk known for being “impeccably dressed.” We’re a folk known for rabble-rousing. And yes, the LGBTQ alumni group is on this, too. Also another promising thing (I hope): the newly elected president of the Alumnae Association is a lady-loving lady, which may make a difference? But you are absolutely right that alums get what we want.
Just as an fyi for everyone, Smith did have something like a task force on campus about 10 years ago to try to address this issue of how we admit trans* women without diluting our status as a women’s college. (This seems like an obvious non-issue to me: we’re a women’s college, and so we should consider applications from people who identify as women. Obvs. But I wasn’t on that task force.)
From what I heard of the outcomes of this task force (on which I believe one of our Gov professors sat), they made the decision to go without an explicit policy, because theoretically, that would leave the college and the admissions office more open than any explicit policy they could have created. At that point, though, any trans* women who were denied admission were pretty unknown. No one seemed to be super happy with the non-policy, but everyone kind of went with it. I think this might’ve been in part because there was no way to tell whether or how many trans* women were actually being affected by this policy/lack of policy. I’m not saying it’s ok that we didn’t have a huge impetus to change anything before social media changed that dynamic (it’s not) and I’m not saying that Calliope should have needed to be the catalyst for this kind of change (she shouldn’t), but: she catalyzed something. Something big. This Smithie is thankful for that long-overdue catalyst.
And Smith is a school that’s really afraid of poor media attention (I know this from experience; this is why, at least 6 years ago, Smith started to actually care about sexual assault survivors on campus), so I do honestly believe that Smith will (finally) get their shit together on this.
And a note to Calliope: I get that you might not want to go to Smith anymore; that would make total sense. But you can always transfer in once they get their ducks in a row — as a transfer student, I can tell you it’s still totally worth it. The Smith administration might not have their shit together, but Smithies? We definitely want you as part of our network.
I’m also an alum, Class of 2000. I really hope this isn’t the conclusion to Calliope’s story. I don’t know her personally but the Smith LGBTQ listserv has been blowing up over this– and all in support. I sent her a message saying I think that despite the administration, I think she would fit in well with the brave badass Smith women I know and I would be proud for her to be part of our family.
And my hope for Smith is we can turn this around and become leaders for other women’s colleges which (with the very notable exception of Simmons) have been silent about whether they would admit trans* women.
Great coverage. Thanks for writing this for us!
I really like this article. It’s nice to see this issue dealt with in a non-defensive, straightforward way. I’m usually really afraid to discuss it since my emotions run really high (sour grapes and such) and those of current students and alumni of women’s colleges with trans women exclusionary admissions policies or practices (understandably) run high as well. Reading this was kind of cathartic.
I agree. It was really nice to read an article that was not simply Smith-bashing but offered a thorough insight into the really big and complicated issue. I am a current student at Smith and definitely in support of trans* women being able to attend, however I think that many people are quick to be on the defense as opposed to helping educate others as to what is really going on. So, thank you.
I meant more that the article author didn’t passive-aggressively qualify its discussion of the trans-women-exclusive admissions policy with a statement about how awesome Smith is for other queer people every other sentence. No one was ever challenging the notion that Smith is great for FAAB queer people, and I don’t doubt for a second that it is. I just get really sick of hearing the fact that it’s great for others used to as a response to calling out how fucked up its admissions policy is. As someone who couldn’t have gone if I tried and experiences this kind of othering in every space from women’s bathrooms to feminist symposia, I feel that it’s like telling someone who can’t afford a car how awesome your car is. Non-responsive, derailing, and no consolation.
the author didn’t keep qualifying *their* discussion. I originally had just the word “article” there, but then I realized that it didn’t write itself, but I forgot to make the object pronoun agree with the subject. That’s really embarrassing in the context of my comment!
It really sucks that people are using Smith’s queer-friendliness as a way to excuse transmisogyny ~ that’s total crap. Transmisogyny does not an inclusive school make.
In case people are having a hard time finding the petition here is another link to it just to drive the point home! Please sign it! http://www.change.org/smithadmissions
As a current Smithie and a member of another campus org that provides support for trans*-identified individuals and allies, Transcending Gender (TG), I would like to make some corrections to the above information and add my two cents. I represented TG at the recent meeting with administrators, and it’s clear that I took different things away from that meeting than the Q&A members who were present.
First of all, I would like to emphasize that I am embarrassed and dismayed by this issue; I truly love my alma mater, and it hurts to see a wonderful applicant denied consideration for admission as a result of a technicality. I am upset that such a professedly forward-thinking school has yet to graduate an out transwoman, and that transwoman applicants have historically been turned away.
However, I would like to point that Smith’s policies are not active discrimination towards transwomen but rather a passive lack of support ~ the reason the FAFSA must be gender-consisten is a legal matter, and the administration doesn’t know the possible ramifications of marking on the FAFSA a gender that does not match one’s social security. This is still highly problematic, but I think it needs to be understood that Smith is trying to protect its single-sex status ~ the FAFSA is among the forms that is checked by auditors annually, and a male gender marker could result in Smith being forced to go co-ed. Some of the administrators at the recent meeting were very receptive to feedback from me, Q&A, and other students suggesting that they research the legal nuances of the situation so that they can better guide transwomen who wish to apply.
That said, I appreciate the above article’s more factual approach to the situation, and I hope that we can continue to discuss this issue in a way that will help Smith move forward in the future.
“However, I would like to point that Smith’s policies are not active discrimination towards transwomen but rather a passive lack of support ”
Just like getting ridding of affirmative action is “about equality?” *facepalm*
EJ, out of curiosity, are there any trans men attending Smith who have legally changed their gender? If so (and I highly suspect there are) why haven’t these supposed auditors forced Smith to go co-ed?
I know some alums who have fully transitioned to male, but as far as I know (and I am aware of a considerable portion of the transmasculine community) there are no legally-male transmen at Smith right now. I can’t give you anything more definitive than that though, sorry.
I don’t doubt this is the administration’s line and believe that you don’t know any trans men who’ve legally changed their gender (although, to me, if a trans man is on t and has had top surgery, which I’m sure a number of the trans men at Smith have done, it’s very unlikely to me they wouldn’t be changing their legal status since, in many states, trans men don’t need bottom surgery to change their legal gender). I wonder if they would continue to use that explanation if they were telling it to someone like Jennifer Levi, the head of the GLAD Trans Rights Project?
If the administration really has good faith and isn’t discriminatory (and what they’re telling you about is true) I would think they would require the current legal status of all their trans man students to be carefully verified or else the entire legality of their single-sex school would supposedly be thrown in question.
Another question comes up as to the status of genderqueer people (of which I believe there are quite a few at Smith). By definition, genderqueer people aren’t women either and should have no place at a woman’s school (and yes, I understand being genderqueer has no current legal status). Has this issue been bothered to be addressed at Smith?
I don’t know about Smith, but I know that at two other well-known women’s colleges, in the case of genderqueer students, if they announce their genderqueer identity during admissions, all documents must read female (transcripts, etc)
I am not telling you this from what the administration says, only from my own experience, as a member of a campus org that supports a number of transmasculine people. I am sorry that you seem to believe I am a puppet for the administration; let me reiterate, I fully believe transwomen should be at Smith and I think Smith needs to get their shit together to make it happen.
“By definition, genderqueer people aren’t women either and should have no place at a woman’s school (and yes, I understand being genderqueer has no current legal status). Has this issue been bothered to be addressed at Smith?”
To answer your question, yes, this issue has been addressed: Smith’s policy is to “admit women and graduate students,” i.e. if you identify as female at admission and transition during your time at Smith you can still graduate (this also applies to transmen). What Sela says is true; documentation at admission must label you as female, and otherwise you’re fine.
In response to the first part of your statement here, I would like to argue that the strict definition of a women’s college is not the definition we should be going on. As this article mentions, the traditional aim of a women’s college is more to support non-male-gendered persons. Although Smith wasn’t founded in a time when trans* and genderqueer people were considered, I believe that the spaces we call “women’s colleges” are truly for any non-cis-male people ~ they are places for the marginalized to find support and safety. Are you suggesting that genderqueer people (including me, I should state) should be expelled from single-sex institutions as soon as they publicize their gender identities?
EJ, I think if the administration is as well-intentioned and ultimately fair minded (but just bound by legalities) as you seem to want to believe, they should do everything they can to root out non-women from their campus because, heaven forbid if the auditors found out about them, the school’s “legal status” might be at peril. And those who ID as genderqueer are not women (no matter how much they occupy self-proclaimed women’s spaces). Personally, I think you, as a genderqueer person, occupying space at a women’s college where someone who identifies as a women can’t get in (for whatever reason) is really unfair and the college should do something about it if they’re consistent about these issues. Moreover, I think they should clarify if genderqueer students aren’t being honest on their admission forms about their gender identity and are hiding behind their FAAB documentation to try and sneak into the school. I feel pretty certain there is nothing in the mission statement of Smith which mentions people who are genderqueer (regardless of their assigned sex), yet it does mention women. But correct me if I’m wrong.
As I understand it, the reason the school does not “root out” non-female-identified people is because the only time such identities are documented is at admission. Afterwards, no additional official documents are collected that include gender identity, so there is no legal risk there.
I will say that I don’t necessarily believe in all of the administration’s statements of good intent. But I have always followed the maxim of looking for the best in people and trying to understand other points of view, even those that I don’t agree with. Despite the administration’s shortcomings, it makes far more sense to me to try to get them on my side than it does to set them up as enemies.
On a completely different topic, I am very hurt by your statement that as a genderqueer person I don’t belong at Smith or the insinuation that I “snuck in” by lying about my gender. Let me be very clear: during the admission process, I had no inkling that such a thing as “genderqueer” existed. I did not lie on any of my forms when I identified myself as female, because at the time that was my understanding of my gender. Smith has in fact enabled me to find and embrace my gender identity, and has been a safe place for me to come out as non-binary. (And can I point out that it sucks that you’re forcing me to recount my gender/coming-out story to prove that I’m not a bad person?) Are you suggesting that Smith embrace policies that will force transmasculine and genderqueer people to closet themselves during their time here? Because I find that just as screwed up as not admitting transwomen, to be honest.
Smith’s mission statement does not mention any gender other than women, but that is a reflection of the time in which it was written. When I mentioned, at another meeting with administrators last night, that perhaps women’s colleges might be re-envisioned as spaces for minority (that is, non-cismale) genders, there was interest in that thematic understanding of a women’s college, both from administrators and other students.
I think that there is a lot of things about women’s colleges that those who have not attended one just cannot understand. A culture, a pride, a history, and a realization of the importance of women’s colleges continuing to stay segregated.
I only know of one trans guy at my school. He was kicked out when he threw a jar of jelly beans at the student services director and a baby gate at the director of security. He was out when he applied, and was accepted with the understanding that he was being admitted as a woman. The administration made that very clear to him. All records would list him by his birth name and by female pronouns. If he wasn’t willing to do that, he could go to a coed school.
I honestly have no idea what made him come to my school. He got really mad and started a campaign against the school, calling them transphobic and things, especially after they kicked him out. It didn’t make much sense to me. He was upper class and I honestly don’t think he’d ever been told no before. It was quite the mess. He also liked to sexually harass the girls on campus, even though he identified as a gay man. So that was fun.
All of that being said, after him, my school does not admit out trans guys.
I think, though, that kicking out people who transition while in college is a little ridiculous. Firstly, that will prevent them from coming out. Secondly, a lot of genderqueer and trans guys I know at women’s colleges hadn’t figured it out pre-college, hence their decision to attend a women’s college. That’s also one reason there are so few trans women at women’s colleges.
All that to say, I don’t think trans guys and genderqueer people are actively trying to take over these women’s spaces in particular (except for the aforementioned guy. But he was just…I don’t even know.) And I don’t think they need to be kicked out. I ALSO don’t think not kicking them out should be a reason to make women’s colleges coed. I think it’s just complicated.
Sela… FYI, my comment about genderqueer people was intended as irony (with a sarcastic tinge). Guess what, as a woman who is trans I’m NOT in favor of kicking people out of anywhere because of their gender identity or expression. But I also don’t buy EJ’s acceptance of the administration’s explanation of this issue. If there were genuine issues with legality, they would be keeping a much closer watch on all students who don’t ID as women.
As to trans guys… yes, you mentioned this guy you knew in another thread and I’m not sure what it has to do with this issue. It kind of feels like trans guy bashing which I’m not in favor of. Trans guys are not the problem… specific non-trans attitudes towards trans women as to the authenticity of their womanhood is the issue.
As I said on another thread, there are way more important issues to worry about in the trans community like young trans women being murdered with shocking regularity, the intersections of racism and being trans, meaningful job, medical and parental rights protections/equality, incarcerated trans people and care and mentorship of trans youth. Those are far more pressing issues than Smith being an exclusionary school and having a stick up its behind. I suspect why people are making such a big deal about this is because it’s a symbol of trans women’s exclusion from feminist and queer women’s structures and well as a slowly dawning realization that trans women’s issues might just also be women’s issues. And due to the fact that more and more trans youth are starting to transition before college, issues like this will be increasingly faced by a new generation and I’ll be damned if they’re going to go through the same disrespect myself and others faced.
Please read this quote from my response to Sela:
“Sela… FYI, my comment about genderqueer people was intended as irony (with a sarcastic tinge). Guess what, as a woman who is trans I’m NOT in favor of kicking people out of anywhere because of their gender identity or expression. But I also don’t buy EJ’s acceptance of the administration’s explanation of this issue. If there were genuine issues with legality, they would be keeping a much closer watch on all students who don’t ID as women.”
So, I’m sorry if what I wrote produced hurt, I certainly don’t actually think you should be kicked out (and I say that as someone who has lost major employment in my life for being trans). It was intended as (clumsy?) irony. I do have a big problem with the “good intentions” you’re ascribing to Smith’s Administration. This is not a new issue, the only real difference is that they’re only now being called out on the carpet for it on the Internet, and over social media and they’re scared it’s going to impact donations and the school’s progressive rep. You being able to “work with them” is only possible because you had a situation where you were allowed into the school, so you’re seeing it from a standpoint of your own inclusion and not as someone who’s been forced to see it from the outside due to discrimination. I hope you and other “Smithies” might think about how that colors your perception of how other people are discussing your school’s actions both past and present.
And btw, even though I think you have every right to go to Smith, just understand that female assigned at birth genderqueer persons being in women’s spaces while trans women are kept out is a sore spot in many trans women’s sides, and it’s only extremely recently that many genderqueer-ID’d trans men, bois and other genderqueer FAAB people even bothered to think about just how pervasive and pernicious this is.
I accept your apology, qualified and insincere though it was ~ just note that in a space where emotions are already running high, sarcasm and irony are perhaps not the best rhetorical choices.
I know that my tendency to look for the best in people causes opponents to dislike me. I am sorry that my willingness to work with the administration, and my privilege to be in a place where I can work with the administration, make it hard for you and others to trust me. I truly want to do anything I can to bring transwomen to Smith. I am also truly sorry that my inclusion in a women’s space is hurtful to others; I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have gone to a single-sex institution if I’d had any inkling that my gender would ever be anything other than female.
I’m aware that as a FAAB I have privilege in a space like Smith that transwomen do not yet have. I cannot, however, apologize for my privilege, as it is not something that I can control. What I *can* do is use my privilege to bring other voices to the table. I am happy to bring to the administration and to my organization and statements, ideas, etc. you may have ~ so long as they are not mere indictments of me, my school, or the administration. I know that many people are angry, as am I, but speaking only words of anger gets us nowhere.
I am sorry that institutions like Smith discriminate against transwomen, and I am sorry that I am an especially strong reminder of this discrimination. I am doing what I can to lessen the harm I do and increase the good.
Also, I should clarify what I meant by the statement of mine you quoted: I think the current position of the administration is deplorable, however, they seem willing to move forward. Were they instead actively discriminating against transwomen, it would be much more difficult to move forward.
My thoughts exactly. What a bunch of bullshit.
“he reason the FAFSA must be gender-consisten is a legal matter, and the administration doesn’t know the possible ramifications of marking on the FAFSA a gender that does not match one’s social security. This is still highly problematic, but I think it needs to be understood that Smith is trying to protect its single-sex status ~ the FAFSA is among the forms that is checked by auditors annually, and a male gender marker could result in Smith being forced to go co-ed. ”
Trouble is, this is plum not true.
The Kraschel article cited by Ms. Giovanniello above explains why this is not a legal leg to stand on. http://harvardjlg.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Kraschel.pdf if you haven’t read it.
Smith already is for all intents and purposes co-ed. Men attend Smith as undergrads. Using the technicality of someone’s assigned gender at birth to enable this male infiltration is problematic, but it also explicitly enables the reality that this technicality will also be exploited to keep trans women out.
Men don’t belong at a *women’s* college if your concern is that Smith might be “forced to go co-ed.” This excuse about FAFSAs and gender under Title IX is, as Ms. Kraschel points out, a straw person, and hearing people who claim they support us turn around and cling to it proves that we’re not being supported at all, we’re being excluded for the convenience of men and theory alike.
I’m really not sure about the legality ~ I have heard conflicting things from various interested and neutral parties.
I’m confused by what you mean by Smith being co-ed and men attending. Clearly you haven’t met the Smithies I have. While there are transmasculine people and transmen on campus, Smith is a safe haven for them just as it is for ciswomen and just as it *should* be for transwomen. Cismen do not attend Smith as undergrads.
Men from the five colleges can take Smith classes, and Smith’s small graduate program is completely co-ed. I’m a Smith alum, and when I toured at Smith I still identified as straight. (I was mistaken.) Anyway, the tour-guides and admissions people I spoke with before I applied used the “oh, there are plenty of guys on campus” line as a selling point with me, and I’ve heard similar said to a lot of other straight and bi prospies. Yes, the college is still a safe haven for a lot of women, and fulfills the important role of women’s colleges, and so on. But there is a cis-male presence on campus, and the school likes to present itself in different lights depending on who they’re doing business with.
As for the argument that they might be forced to lose their women’s college status, I don’t see how it holds water. Didn’t Simmons just accept a transwoman? I don’t think they’re losing their status.
EJ, trans men = men… therefore Smith = a coed campus.
Men are enrolled at Smith. Attempting to use the technicality that they’re trans men doesn’t change that men are men.
And i’m pretty sure that a peer-reviewed article in an Ivy League law school’s journal is a strongly persuasive matter, if not the last word. As Hazel Blue points out above, Simmons accepted a trans woman as a student and nobody is clamoring to use the Title IX exception to force the school to “go co-ed.” Which, as we’ve discussed, Smith already is, before you bring the Five Colleges interchange program into the matter. Trans men are not special magical exceptions to being men…trans men are men.
Inaction is the same as discrimination. Sorry not sorry.
I completely agree with you. Passive discrimination is still discrimination. My point is that people who engage in passive discrimination are far more approachable and open to change than people who engage in active discrimination, because they are often not aware of the issues rather than being deliberately bigoted. I know that my position is giving the administration the benefit of the doubt, but I would rather go forward on this issue with potential allies in the administration than by waging war against them. I think we can make far more progress in coalition than in conflict.
I also attend Smith and am disappointed that, as a prominent member of Transcending Gender, you are trying to back up Smith’s weak lie that accepting transwomen would affect the school’s legal status as a women’s college.
Mills and Simmons, also traditional women’s colleges, currently accept transwomen. “Woman” can be defined by the college to mean whatever they want it to mean. Smith could accept transwomen and still say it’s a women’s college, and so it would still be a women’s college. It’s that easy.
Unfortunately, even if transwomen were to be accepted at Smith it seems as though the student body would be unready to accept them. The transmisogyny that has been apparent all over Smith Confessional/ Facebook/ other social media outlets has been appalling. At first I assumed that the biggest obstacle to overcome would be with the administration, but I have since had to rethink that assumption.
Also, ginapdx, don’t take the Sophian too seriously. It’s a poorly run newspaper that always seems to be 3 weeks behind the news and full of problematic material (not to mention embarrassing typos)
I am not, as I see it, backing a lie. Nor do I *agree* that Smith is at risk for losing its single-sex status if it accepts transwomen. I am stating that that is the administration’s concern, and that to the extent of their knowledge this is a legitimate concern. It is also necessary to note that the administration and Admissions are looking into the legality right now, and at last night’s meeting they stated that they hope to have some conclusive information in about two weeks. If at that point they are still evasive, I will begin to doubt their intentions. But until I have a strong sign that the administration is unwilling to move forward, I will continue to do what I can to work with rather than against them on this issue. Students can pressure the administration as much as they like, but I see more value in coalition than in conflict.
Your second point is a more sobering one. I think as a Smithie you must be aware that Smith Confessional brings out the absolute worst in everyone and is not necessarily an accurate gauge of the social temperature at Smith ~ although I acknowledge that the emotional damage Smith Confessional can do is of course very real. However, I think you’re right that not all of the student body would be welcoming to transwomen. I don’t know, though, how widespread that attitude is ~ I personally have not witnessed excessive amounts of transmisogyny, but this is probably because I avoid the sorts of internet spaces that foster such attitudes. I hope that the work of Q+A, TG, Prism, and other queer orgs can reduce that hate, but I know it’s hard, if not impossible, to reach some people. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
When I was a student there, 15ish years ago, trans* men were being threatened to be kicked out if they medically transitioned in any way. We (the queer activist group then– it has had many different incarnations) worked really hard on this with the administration but also the students. It must have worked because from what I can tell, all is (for the most part) good now.
We were all at the time in support of trans* women applying to Smith, but it hadn’t happened that we were aware of. I think we tried to make that support known but it was much harder to do when it was not actively discriminating against someone — I understand that the culture of women’s colleges would likely have passively discouraged and thereby discriminated against trans* women but it was all just in theory. Until now.
I still am proud to be a Smith alum and do think it has an incredible community. But I also think it has problems and it is imperative that we, as its community, tell the administration that this is simply not ok.
The Title IX thing has already been mentioned but I will mention it again because it is important– that argument is a total ruse, it isn’t real. It’s important to discuss it because there is such widespread misunderstanding of it and it is being used as this shield when it isn’t a real issue at all.
Also, this was also mentioned but also worth stating again– Calliope did everything she could to work closely with the admissions office and they twice declined to review her application, on the basis of her FAFSA. The implication being if you are a trans* woman who can pay without financial aid– then you could get in. I think the FAFSA was also a red herring, I think admissions was looking for anything to turn her application away without review, but even still, if this is the sole thing they could find were another trans* woman to apply who could pay tuition, it seems they would be in a bind and would have to review her application. Which is 100% fucked-up and makes this not just a gender identity issue but also a class issue.
Hey Ace, thanks for the history… interesting that the issue of trans men @ Smith went back to the 1990s (and there were a lot fewer transitioned trans men then). Just to put things in perspective, I don’t think there was a chance in hell that a known trans woman would have been admitted to a 7 sisters school in that era. There were still a large percentage of feminists (including Smith alums like Gloria Steinem) who were saying very unchallenged transphobic things about trans women well into the 2000s. The concept that trans women have some place in cis women’s spaces has only really been changing since around 2004-5 and, honestly, really more in the past 3-4 years and I think the Internet has had a huge impact. I have zero doubt that Smith’s administration would be making Ms. Wong’s case a “no comment” if there were no social media to spread the news.
The community of trans women has a lot of other more pressing issues to concern ourselves with, but I’ve been seeing trans women discuss this issue for nearly the past 10 years. I know the first time I heard trans women who had applied/wanted to apply to Seven Sisters schools (whether it was Smith or not I don’t recall) was on a trans woman’s forum called GenderPeace around 2003 (?) and the subject came up pretty regularly. There was a LOT of discussion about how even someone who’d had SRS would be outed quite easily due to federal ID problems and tossed by the school. It’s good to hear you were concerned about it back in the day because for a lot of us, it honestly felt like no one gave a cr*p. It’s good to hear someone was out there!
There were a few trans* men while I was there (1996-2000) that I knew who were out-ish including one of my very closest friends (I can think of about 5 and those were just the people I knew). We (the queer activist folks) knew they were very concerned about whether they could stay at Smith if they transitioned medically and Smith found out so they felt like they had to lay low and remain silent. I know it isn’t perfect for them either (there was an incident where the school wouldn’t allow a tour guide who was a trans* man to host a prospective student) but it seems like it is much better.
I think we did the best we could to try to put the word out that we would support any trans* women who wanted to apply but it was difficult — the Internet hadn’t even been around that long! And just from talking to friends who are trans* women who are around my age, I’ve heard repeatedly that they just never considered it an option though some have expressed that they would have wanted to if they thought they could. This is what I meant by “passive discrimination”– no one at Smith or any other women’s college was doing or saying anything officially back then but yet trans* women still felt they couldn’t apply and so they didn’t. Also, I do not think the (queer or lesbian) alums at that time would have been as supportive as they are now. But people’s views have evolved and I think that is all we can hope for when we first meet resistance. I was astonished to learn the very same dean who fought us so hard on the issue of trans* men at Smith is now fully supportive of them (again, just what I’ve heard from some current students, this could be wrong).
I really do think Smith has an opportunity to turn this around and become a leader for other women’s colleges and I am still really hopeful that it will. I have donated to Smith every year since I graduated– I’ve already let them know I won’t donate again until this is resolved and trans* women can apply the same as cis* women. That is to say– ALL women can apply.
Hey, yall should put the petition link at the top of this article or somewhere else accessible! I couldn’t find it and having it embedded in a comment is still a little tricky.
“In order for Smith to continue to fulfill its stated mission, it must adjust its policies to reflect the changing discourse surrounding gender and sexuality by admitting both trans men and trans women”
The problem with this is that if Smith admits trans men too then it would still be denying trans women access to a women’s only collage. It would also implicitly suggest that trans men aren’t really men and by extension that trans women aren’t really women.
I think the best option would be to keep women’s collages mostly women only, by admitting women(cis & trans) and non-binary’s, and excluding men(cis & trans). I do however believe those trans men who come out after being admitted should be grandfathered in as a special exception, only because it would be excessively punitive to kick someone out of school for coming out.
Niki: right on. I agree with your analysis of the ideal state of women’s colleges. I hope that we can move towards this ideal and make women’s colleges a safe space for minority genders. It’s difficult, though, to then find a safe space for transmen. I think you’re right that women’s colleges are not a place for transmen, but I feel that they are in need of similar support as far as being a gender minority is concerned.
While I get what you’re saying here, trans men are also people who are discriminated based on their gender and can and do thrive in “women’s” colleges based on shared experiences of gender oppression. There is undeniable value in maintaining a space which supports women, non-binary and transmasculine people in full recognition of the ways in which misogyny, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia have real effects. While many trans men may not want to attend women’s colleges for a variety of reasons, there are also many who do benefit immensely through sharing experiences and histories of gender oppression with other students at these institutions.
The Women’s Colleges have certainly played a vital role in preparing young women for numerous top-level leadership roles. This is, indeed, something to be proud of.
The open exclusion of men from admissions, however, does reflect a serious double-standard of the Women’s Movement. Back in the 1990’s, a number of Women’s Organizations successfully challanged the gender-exclusive admission policies of several all-men’s colleges. Also worth mentioning is the fact that those same organizations have filed lawsuits against the men-only policies of private clubs. When the situation is reversed, however, preservation of the status quo is demanded.
Interestingly, there has been ongoing controvesy on the role of race/ethnicity on admissions, and, if a few points to the admission scores are added on the basis of these, the issue has been appealed up to the United States Supreme Court. The absolute ban against the admission of men at eomen’s colleges, though, is a virtual non-issue, and it’s rare even for Men’s Advocacy groups to mention it.
One of the reasons frequently cited for the gender-exclusive policies is that women fell uncomfortable in the presence of men. Well, this may or may not be the case. Worth mentioning, however, is the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADT) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability even if others are uncomfortable with an individual’s particular disability. Thus the educational institutions are permitted to use criteria to discriminate against men as a group that they are prohibited from using to exclude people with disabilities as a group.
Furthermore, one of the arguments of the LGBTQ population is that one doesn’t have a choice regarding their sexual orientation. Without getting into the merits of this issue, it is certain obvious that, transgender not withstanding, one certainly doesn’t choose the gender they are initally born into.
Apparently, there is one standard for permissible gender discrimination but another for other forms of discrimination.
I saw this conflict coming a few years ago, although Ace has educated me concerning trans men in Women’s colleges going back to the 90s.
Your other Sister from across the river, Mount Holyoke, has been trying to resolve this conflict since around 2005, and I seem to remember a Boston Globe investigation about transmen in Women’s colleges.
From my POV I find it disingenuous of someone, claiming to be a man, trying to matriculate into a Womans’ college simply because their birth certificate states they are female. Yet if someone was to claim to be a woman, but their birth certificate states, “male” I ask, “what is the problem”?
Ah, but here is the true issue: cisgender women have a more difficult time accepting transwomen into their exclusive, single gender, colleges but are more accepting of transmen matriculating. I have my suspicions as to why this is the case and it kind of runs into an article I read in the Huffington Post earlier this week called, “Where have all the Butches Gone”?, which was less an article about more fem looking gay women than it was about transwomen inundating the planet. maybe a bit of embellishment, but not much.
The second reason, and actually more concerning to Seven Sisterhood administration and recruiting, is the whole question as to whether women’s colleges are relevant within our more genderqueer society. Should administration allow transmen and transwomen to matriculate without challenge to one’s gender, then to what purpose do these women’s colleges serve?
I am just cooking up food for thought.