Smith College Is Rejecting Transgendered Applicants Because It Doesn’t Recognize Them As Female


Of all the colleges in this great nation, Smith College in Northampton, MA has one of the most feminist, inclusive, and social justice-y reputations. In my mind, I have always pictured it as the sort of place where “gender” is understood as an oppressive societal construct, where you can take 100 classes on the aforementioned concept, and where women of all kinds frolic in Gaia’s magic garden of self-actualization. Which is why I was so surprised to find out that Smith College has been rejecting transwomen, i.e. male-to-female trans persons who identify as women, on the grounds that they are not “real” women.

A Connecticut high school senior named Calliope Wong wanted nothing more than to frolic in Smith’s magic garden of lady-ness. Unfortunately for her, she never stood a chance, but not because her grades weren’t up to snuff. She never stood a chance because she doesn’t fit Smith’s antiquated genital definition of womanhood. Writes Wong on her Tumblr:

The research I’ve done on Smith’s trans-policies seems to strongly suggest that, regardless of a transwoman’s character and academic merit as a student, she will not be given the same consideration for her application. In fact, a transwoman will likely get NO consideration whatsoever for her application (it will almost certainly get thrown out immediately). This is because:

Smith only considers female applicants for undergraduate admission.  (quoth their official website below) first glance it seems legit. Sure, a women’s college takes only women applicants.

But accepting only “females” gets very, very murky when you actually get down to the practical implications of such a ruling: critically analyze the concept in full, and consider its effects on the lives of prospective students like me.

As Wong says, a 17-year-old transwoman would have to get gender reassignment surgery, a costly and invasive procedure (and one many trans people feel comfortable forgoing) in order to be legally recognized as a woman and hence allowed to attend Smith, which I think most people would agree is an unreasonable barrier to place before a young transwoman’s admission, and one which guarantees virtually none of them will be admitted.

She goes on to detail the reasons why this is a bad thing for Smith:

The institutional gatekeeper policies keeping transwomen out of Smith are unreasonable and not modeled on the real life struggles of transwomen.

If Smith’s ultimate concern is to provide for the education and empowerment of all women students, then it is clearly cutting out and rejecting a valuable demographic with its outmoded and irrational acceptance policies.

Not to be dissuaded, Wong got in touch with the Dean of Admissions Debra Shaver, who told her that it was, indeed, possible to apply to Smith as a trans woman. Her exact words: “It seems to me that if your teachers provide the language you suggest, all your pronouns would be female and therefore consistent with what Smith is expecting.” Hooray! So she applied. And swiftly received the following rejection letter from Shaver’s very office:

smith-letterThis time, they targeted Wong’s FAFSA, which was the only form she couldn’t change her gender on. This makes me think she might’ve been given a fair shake, had she not needed to apply for financial aid. Ouch, right? Wong wrote that she felt “betrayed” by Shaver, which seems fair. To dangle the possibility of admission before her, and then reject her application without even reading it was much crueler than just rejecting her from the beginning. I guess the old guard, transphobic kinds of feminists still run things over at Ye Olde Smith College.

The only conceivable rationale I can think of for this type of discrimination is that cis men might pretend to be transwomen in order to be admitted to Smith’s garden of ripe young women, which sounds like a good plot for an Adam Sandler movie, but which I think most of us can recognize as a ludicrous concern. The simple fact is that Smith’s administration has yet to catch up with its student body, or even the things taught in its own damn classes. Calliope Wong seems like a smart young lady who will do just fine without going to Smith College; it’s Smith’s reputation for progressivism that comes out behind in this equation. The many students and alums who’ve been posting in the Facebook group Trans Women Belong At Smith College agree.

And just in case you were wondering if it’s even legally possible for a women’s college to admit trans students, it is. Here’s a post about how Simmons College, another women’s college, admitted a trans woman and gave her a scholarship for her outstanding work in photography and social justice movements. Good for you, Simmons. Get it together, Smith.

(Via Jezebel)

Photo: Calliope Wong

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    • Eileen

      This is why I don’t believe in women’s colleges that still admit only “women.”

      Seriously, just go to Vassar, potential Smithies.

    • Lastango

      “I guess the old guard, transphobic kinds of feminists still run things over at Ye Olde Smith College.”

      Oh fer… Let me give this a try. If Smith admits a person who is biologically male, they will have established a precedent and will no longer be able to reject applications from males on grounds of sex. Yes they could try to have their cake and eat it, for a little while, but it wouldn’t withstand a lawsuit from a male applicant rejected later. The rejection letter, which would have to be something like the following, wouldn’t carry much weight with the judge:

      Dear John Jones,
      Thank you again for your expression of interest in attending Smith College. We are returning your application for admission, along with the application fee. In your essay you point out that we admitted Calliope Wong, who – like you – is a biological male. We did so, but Wong is a cross-dresser, which our Faculty of Gender Studies believes is defensible as a human right. We see by your social networking postings that you are not, except for attending one Halloween party as a Playboy bunny. However, our staff and students agree your girlfriend killed that Hef number, and if she applies we promise a favorable review. After she gets here she can “transmen” all she wants to. Mmmm… so very “Smith”. We wish you all the best as you continue your education.

      Debra Shaver,
      Dean of +/- Studend Pairings

      • jamiepeck

        Cool transphobic rant, bro! Take it to reddit.

      • Lastango

        Cool failure-to-read, Jamie sweetie. Take it to continuing ed.

      • LisaDisqus

        Really, because I read it and right off the bat you decided to call Ms Wong a cross-dresser as apposed to a transwoman and making fun of a situation that is obviously very serious and upsetting to a lot of people. Add to that the condescending “sweetie” for Jamie, and i would say you aren’t necessarily transphobic, you my just be a dick in general.

      • Lastango

        Actually, I don’t usually insult people. “Sweetie” is payback for Jamie calling me a phobe and telling me to F-off.

        And as for you, well, you may just be a card-carrying member of the Punk Swarm… always ready to dive in with truisms, talking points, and concern-shaming. That’s a lot easier than thinking, no? And a whole lot more popular. But don’t change — I want you to have friends, and if you question the orthodoxy your former thought-buddies will kick you to the curb.

        BTW, did you know that cross-dressers typically have a strong female side? That’s what they’re expressing. They’re not just putting on a costume.

      • RaptorSafari

        You ARE a transphobe, and also just a staggeringly terrible person.

    • Jules

      She has the same name as the main character in Middlesex. What a strange coincidence.

    • Cary Thomson

      I work for a large academic institute, and I guarantee the Dean never actually sees the undergraduate applications. Its possible that the Dean never saw the application, and some one down the line made a decision.