If you haven’t heard, college campuses are the “it” place for social activism now-a-days. Think about it: a bunch of baby adults concentrated together across the nation, with four years to dedicate to learning? During those four years of writing essays, studying theory, and questioning what we know and how we know it, there ought to be some challengin’ of the status quo goin’ on, right? Well, there is. From Harvard’s “I Too Am Harvard” project, to Dartmouth’s Occupy movement, to Wesleyan’s fight for their AFAM program, college students are gearing up to try to change the world they’ll soon be in charge of for the better, and the first step is to make their own campuses more safe, inclusive, and–the biggest buzz word of them all–“diverse.”
One of the most widely talked-about of these projects in my social sphere, as a student at Scripps College, a women’s college just outside of Los Angeles, is the debate on whether trans* women should be admitted into women’s colleges like my own. Many women’s colleges currently don’t accept trans* women into their schools, and many college students are pretty P-O’d about it, since this overt transphobia sorta kinda definitely goes against much of the material I know Scripps students are required to learn about during their first year of college–material focusing on institutionalized violence against minority groups, e.g. trans* and gender non-conforming persons. Although I’m no Laverne Cox or Janet Mock (nor a trans* student either, so bear with me), here I am to tell you why, yes, trans* women should be admitted into women’s colleges, and why, no, those P-O’d people aren’t “overreacting.”
First of all, if you don’t know what trans* means, or if you”re just not very familiar with topics of these sorts–gender discrimination, institutionalized violence, and the like–I urge you to take a class which talks about these things at a local college, to get on Tumblr and find some not-as-scholarly information, or to read up on it yourself at the library (Dean Spade’s Normal Life is especially great). This stuff can get pretty dense if you’ve never learned about it before, but there is no possible way I could convey all of the information/personal experiences about the marginalization of trans* and gender non-conforming people in society in this mere article. So, please, do some research on your own. Educating yourself on these things can help you become a better ally and a better person in general. So please, if you take nothing else from this article, just go look up some Foucault or Dean Spade during your next lunch break. Then we’ll talk. (See: Resources… down below.)
So, What’s the Problem?
According to Wikipedia, there are approximately forty-eight up-and-running women’s colleges in the United States. And according to word of mouth, as college admissions stats and information are super confidential for legal reasons, very, very few, if any, of these forty-eight colleges admit trans* women. Why is this a problem? Well, first of all, denying a person who identifies as a woman acceptance into an institution which claims to be for women seems ludicrous, right? But this happens. Because most trans* women were not born with “female genitalia,” i.e. vaginas, uteruses, etc., and therefore not assigned women/girls at birth, colleges, and basically the government as a whole, deny the legitimacy of their womanhood, continuing to classify them as male on many legal documents, which require much time, energy, and financial means to get changed. Thus, an individual is saying “this is who I am,” yet the government (and, sadly, women’s colleges) will not budge from the woman=vagina, man=penis binary. This, therefore, infringes on the individual’s identity, autonomy, safety, health, and every aspect of their life. Many believe this is an act of discrimination, of oppression, and thus are trying to work against these systems to change how things are done, so trans* folks can live happier, healthier lives..
Some Proposed Solutions & Why They Don’t Work
There are many arguments about why trans* women shouldn’t be allowed to attend women’s colleges, and there are many thoughts on what colleges should do to address this debate, whether it be in the form of policy changes or something else. However, just because a solution is proposed doesn’t mean that it should actually be implemented… Let’s take a look.
A Women’s College’s Policy Should Be: “Nope, trans* women aren’t allowed to enroll in our college. Too bad.”
Well, if a college were to adopt this official policy, many would be relieved because it is straightforward, unlike many other colleges’ secretive and unofficial policies. However, it’s straightforwardly transphobic. In one sense, this college would get rid of the onus of this debate off its shoulders, as I assume no trans* women would apply there since they are not welcome. The college would have taken a stance; it would be done with the whole shebang. However, the college would get a ton of flack for outwardly expressing their belief that someone isn’t always a woman, even if they identify that way (a.k.a. transphobia woooo).
A Women’s College Policy Should Be: “Trans* women can apply to our college if all (or a certain some) of their legal records align with their preferred gender identity, and/or if they have had gender confirmation surgery.”
This is sort of a band-aid fix. The college would be outwardly expressing it’s intent to be inclusive… but in all reality, it would still be just as exclusive as it was before. It takes buckets of money, time, and energy that not everyone has to get all of an individual’s documents changed, even minorly. And gender confirmation surgery is also super expensive, with tons of time, effort, and money (and even safety!) going into that part of the requirement. Thus, only financially affluent trans* folks could apply to this college, which wouldn’t help any of the trans* women who want to go to a women’s college but don’t have many resources to comply with the requirements.
The Presence of Trans* Women Would Make Other Students Uncomfortable… So Trans* Students Should Have Separate Housing
This is exclusive, plain and simple. This “solution” would only serve to alienate trans* students more, perhaps leading to mental health and academic difficulties in their future at the college, perhaps leading to lowered graduation rates of trans* students, and therefore fewer opportunities.
In An Ideal World…
All women’s colleges would accept applications from anyone who identifies, or who has ever identified, as a woman, without a required “sex change” or without required documentation that may be expensive or exhausting to get. And in this ideal world, people who don’t identify as women would refrain from submitting their applications in as a joke. This ideal world is a long way off, of course, and you may call it idealistic, but… We’re working for it. One day, hopefully, women’s colleges won’t just be for traditionally feminine women. One step at a time, and eventually systems of power will hopefully be dismantled and restructured in a way that doesn’t disadvantage anyone. We can only hope, right?
This article is by no means the end-all, be-all of this topic and its related discussions. This article doesn’t even begin to address the problems intersex people and other trans*, non-binary, or gender non-conforming, etc. folks have with women’s colleges and their adherence to the gender binary. But that’s for another time, or perhaps for your own solo research… Consider this tid-bit of information an intro to this topic!
If I’ve hopefully piqued your interest in this, and you’re looking for more information on college admissions for trans* students, trans* politics, or anything of that sort, check out these resources. But don’t forget to go research on your own as well! The library is a great place, kids. Check these out!
- Dean Spade’s Barnard College speech about trans* admissions into women’s colleges — a great resource for anyone who actually wants to see a professional activist (Barnard alum!) talking about this issue, with statistics and facts!
- An unofficial list of women’s colleges’ admissions policies regarding trans* women — for anyone interested in women’s colleges’ current policies
- Dean Spade’s Normal Life — for anyone interested in the bigger picture
- Dean Spade’s website — for anyone interested in the bigger picture
- On of Smith College’s protests — actual on-campus activism!
- The Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology — again, the bigger picture
- Redefining Realness by Janet Mock — a great book detailing Mock’s firsthand experiences as a trans* woman
- basically, anything to do with Dean Spade, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, or Judith Butler (insert thumbs-up here)
What do you think about trans women being admitted into women’s colleges? Leave your comments below!