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)
http://www.smith.edu/diversity/gender.phpOn 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:
This 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.
Photo: Calliope Wong