Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts is now accepting applications from transgender students. That means there could be students on campus who are biologically male, but identify as female. Or there could be students who are biologically female, but identify as male.
On Campus recentlyon this new policy change, talking to administrators and students on campus. But we wanted to hear from more voices than we could fit into one radio story, so we reached out to graduates of women's colleges and members of the transgender community. We asked: Does accepting transgender students change what a women's college is? Do you think there's a place for exclusivity based on gender in higher education today?
Below, we've shared some of the comments, experiences and insights we received.
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K.A. Ryder: I am a Post-Op Transgender Female. I attended Wellesley College as a Pre-Op Female back in the 1970s. I was helped along in the registration process by sympathetic and positive school administration. It was kept very hush hush however. I always lived alone and never shared a dorm room. But otherwise attended all of my classes as a female. We just did not talk about it back then. I think that if someone identifies as female then they can attend a female school, but I do not think that a female to male Transgender should attend a single sex school. Although I guess I can think of exceptions, so I don't know for sure.
For myself, yes some girls did find out (but only through gossip or by seeing my records) - time has softened so much about me, but initially I had various masculine "signs" and the hormones were only starting to kick in which led some women to question what I might be "gender-wise" and some were supportive and others were total bitches to me. I did not see it as my role to "educate" them. I was full of fears and insecurities. Maybe I still am ?
Leigh Quenin: I attended Smith College alongside transmen and genderqueer people. I hadn't considered this when I applied, but it in no way detracted from my education or my social life at Smith. All women's colleges are necessary to give women a space to speak, learn, and live without male interference. Unfortunately, Smith's admission policy is still discriminatory against transwomen who do not have perfect legal documentation of their gender, which I hope will change quickly given the overwhelmingly supportive opinions of current students and recent alumnae.
It makes me more interested in seeing my children attend a women's college. I hope each of them finds an undergraduate institution that is prepared to nurture human potential in all of its aspects -- one that embraces change fearlessly. Sure looks like Mount Holyoke fits the bill!
Jane Gillette: For trans women, there is no question in my mind that they should be accepted, because they ARE women. For trans men who choose to apply, I think that a women's college can be a safe space for them while they are pursuing their studies, in a community that has said they are welcome. As a gay woman with many trans friends, I know that having safe spaces is a good thing. I am so glad that Mt. Holyoke is making a "big tent" and I can't wait for the other women's colleges to step up (Hello, Smith!)
Gretchen Van Ness: The purpose of women's colleges is to put women first. Women's colleges have a responsibility to be smart about gender issues. Everyone -- male, female, and transgender -- can benefit from being in an environment where women's health, well-being, and success are the focus, and the presence of different genders does not mean that focus must change. Colleges like Mt. Holyoke and Mills are leading the way in helping create a trans-inclusive world. It is interesting that women's colleges are in the forefront, but perhaps it is not surprising given that women, even young women, are much more comfortable with a range of gender expression than college- age men generally are.
I attended a women's college with several people who were born women and were either in the midst of transition or were non-gender-conforming. Part of what I loved best about my college was that it was a safe space for women as well as those transitioning to, or transitioning from, being women.
Elizabeth Tobias: "Spirit of Diversity" is balderdash. It is an effort to pander to the ever increasing number of people who find non-traditional gender identification acceptable. It is an effort to pander to self-congratulatory sexist feminists who to want claim to be inclusive while excluding the one group of people they truly despise ("men").
The only way I would find (all-women's schools) acceptable is if we allow any college to prohibit anyone based upon any gender-related factor. I believe with utter conviction that a school which prohibits biological-females who identify-as-female would be decried and protested against. That is no different than Mount Holyoke's policy.
Elisabeth Morgan: I'm an independent educational consultant that has worked with hundreds of students during their college selection process. Anecdotally, I have seen increased interest in women's colleges over the past few years. While most young women still prefer a coeducational institution, there are quite a few who are drawn to the diversity, internationalism, and feminist focus of the women's colleges. I predict that this move by Mt. Holyoke will not change that, and may even encourage more students to apply.
Students that are passionate about women's and gender studies can be of any gender. The important thing to consider in this issue is that the women's colleges stay true to their mission. And it may be time for them to become like the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which have always accepted students of any ethnic group, as long as they share a fundamental commitment to the mission of the college. A Historically Women's College could educate students of any gender that wish to learn in an environment which empowers women... we need more men that have a commitment to that too!
Qian Li: As a transman, I recognize the need for women spaces and have chosen to minimize the space I take up in spaces so designated. I also know transmen who embrace their place in such spaces.
James Duffy: Accepting transwomen does not change what a women's college is, accepting transmen may. I think it comes down to the person and the mission of the school. Transmen and transwomen may have "female" perspectives. Transmen grew up female and many are still attached to that experience and do not reject their female side, they are just more comfortable living as a transman. A transwoman should certainly be given all of the benefits of a cis-woman and that should include attending a women's-only college. If a transman can adequately articulate a reason for wanting to attend a women's only college that comports with the mission of the college that candidate should be admitted if they meet all other criteria.
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