[Updated with input from Q&A and Smith College below]
Students behind a two-year effort to persuade Smith College to draft a transgender-inclusive admissions policy say they are growing increasingly frustrated by the protracted foot-dragging of school officials.
The group Smith "Q&A" said in a Facebook post Thursday that the Smith Board of Trustees is only now beginning to “take up this question,” despite a large protest earlier this year and continued social media pressure from Smith students. The board, the group wrote, is seeking a “range” of opinions from faculty, student and alumni. Q&A called the response “unacceptable,” and launched a petition calling on Rebecca Lindsey, secretary of the board of trustees at Smith College, to act.
The Northampton, Massachusetts, private school is among the most prestigious and notably progressive women’s colleges in the country, with famous alumni including Sylvia Plath and Gloria Steinem. Now, like many single-sex schools, it's being forced to weigh traditional application procedures against changing views on gender and identity.
At issue is the extent to which Smith should take into account gender-identifying documentation provided by applicants. The question gained wider attention in 2013 when Calliope Wong, a transgender woman, was reportedly rejected from Smith because a federal student-aid form identified her as male. Members of the Q&A group say they want to see a policy modeled after the all-female Mills College in Oakland, California, which adopted a transgender-inclusive policy in August, becoming the first of the country’s 119 single-sex colleges to do so. Mills’ policy considers applicants who identify as female, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth, as well as those who say they “do not fit into the gender binary.”
“Moving into the 2014-2015 academic year, we have realized that women’s empowerment should never be limited to just cisgender women,” Q&A wrote. “We realize that fighting transmisogyny -- misogyny experienced by trans women and other transfeminine people specifically -- is essential to furthering Smith’s mission as a women’s college.”
According to the “Gender Identity & Expression” section on the Smith College website, the school does not prohibit transgender women from attending, nor does it “decide who is a woman.” Rather, it relies on various forms of documentation, including transcripts and recommendations.
“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 identity as a woman.”
Sarah Fraas, a Smith student and member of the Q&A group, said providing such documentation is not as simple as the school makes it out to be, particularly for transgender students who may not feel comfortable coming out in high school. “We’ve done a lot of research on this, and less than half of trans high school students are able to change these school records,” she said.
She added that Q&A has been thorough in providing statistics and supporting information for why the group believes the change is necessary.
The group said in its post Thursday that it is tired of waiting and noted that the all-female Mount Holyoke College was able to revise its policy in a matter of months. “It’s frustrating to be constantly told how ‘complex’ this issue is and how ‘careful’ we need to be in discussing it, to know that we are perhaps the only ones in the room who see this is an urgent issue,” the group wrote.
Read the full petition here.
Updated Friday, 6:25:
Stacey Schmeidel, a spokeswoman for Smith College, provided the following statement:
“It is not the case that Smith's administration is just now taking up this issue. In January 2013, in response to conversations with students, the college implemented changes in its admission policy, reducing the number of documents required to affirm an applicant's gender identity. Smith's Board continues to study this important issue, and earlier this semester college officials initiated further conversations with student leaders on this topic.”