Transphobic admissions policies holding smith back

I graduated from Smith College in 2009 on a rainy, humid day in May. Many of us wore our white dresses required for Ivy Day under our graduation gowns, and were a strange mixture of elated and cranky. We had earned a diploma from what was surely the best women’s college around. Some of us, as transfers, loudly attested to that fact.

But while we tell friends and family, potential employers and complete strangers that we graduated from a women’s college, we are leaving out a key fact: Smith College is home to a small population of men, as well.

When I transferred to Smith in 2007, my orientation leader was quick to temper her “this is a women’s college” speeches with reminders of the handful of trans men who attended school with us. One such gentleman, and friend of mine, Scott, lived in Baldwin House with me. His gender was not questioned, and he was one of everyone’s favorite members of the house. How could he not be? He was low-key, kind, and a really smart, funny guy.

Scott and I recently spoke about this misguided admissions policy at Smith, something Scott told me this had been on his mind a lot lately, for obvious reasons. While he had many awkward moments at Smith when someone misgendered him, he said, the isolation of being a trans man among cis women was the most difficult parts about being at Smith. No one around him was experiencing the same disconnect he was, and it left him feeling like he had no one to talk to, at times. But Scott had an “F” printed on his birth certificate, and so Smith was thrilled to have him, to mention the transgender men on campus in their speeches and to point to themselves as a bastion of diversity, even if they weren’t always thrilled to make room for him.

My point is this: if Smith sees fit to graduate trans men, and will even hold this diversity up as proof of their progressiveness, why does Smith refuse to even admit transgender women?

Students and graduates are fed up with this attitude. The protest held at Smith on Thursday, April 24th was proof enough of that. Dozens of young women stood outside the admissions building and symbolically stood with their “sisters, not just [their] cisters.”  [1]

I am proud to say I graduated from Smith. I worked hard for my degree, and don’t know a single person who graduated alongside me who didn’t. When I look at pictures of this protest, I am even prouder that I graduated from an institution with women as smart and passionate as these. I am not, however, proud of Smith’s admissions policy towards transgender women.

That Smith feels free to educate people on gender, call themselves a women’s college, and graduate feminist after feminist while denying someone the opportunity to study because of the gender they were assigned at birth is beyond the pale, and not something I can support.

Admitting transgender women to my college will not cheapen my degree, or the degree of any woman there. It will not create a hostile environment for the cisgender young women who are studying there, and it will not harm the transgender young women who would study there. There is room for all of us. Making Smith’s admissions policy more inclusive is a necessity, not a nicety.

Maybe I have my head in the clouds. Maybe Smith’s real concern is that some young man on the run from the mob will see fit to re-enact the classic movie Some Like It Hot. Maybe not. Maybe Smith’s policies regarding trans women are simply outdated and the institution hasn’t reached an agreement on that yet.

Regardless, I think we can all agree it is far better to err on the side of acceptance, rather than discrimination. Smith has an obligation to do right by their student body, a student body which is calling for an end to institutionalized transphobia. I, for one, think we are missing the boat.


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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