When she donated nearly $400,000 to found a women’s-only institution for higher education 140 years ago, Sophia Smith had no idea that Smith College would offer education also to males that identify themselves as females, or transgender women.
On the other hand, the college’s board maintains its ban on admitting women who were assigned female at birth but currently identify themselves as members of the opposite sex.
According to her will, Smith’s initial plan was to offer her “own sex” the means necessary for an education equal to that in U.S. colleges for young men. But this weekend, Smith College announced that it would open its gates to transgender women as well, after several years of prohibiting it.
The school stated that its decision won’t alter its traditional identity as a “women’s college.” But as concepts of female and male have evolved over time in most unexpected ways, Smith College looks determined to make one step further.
In its recent announcement, Smith stated that people who do not identify as female or male are barred from admission. Genuine women who identify as males are not valid applicants, while transgender women must specify their current gender on the Common Application if they want to get admitted.
Moreover, if one of the female Smith students suddenly decides to become male, she will not be denied education for that reason.
The school said that the decision was not unilateral. It involved a mix of opinions and groups of people. Students, staff, and leaders of the college attended meetings and discussed whether admitting transgender women was the right thing to do. Moreover, alumnae were also asked to take part in the debate and were able to post their comments on the college’s website. The college received about 1,800 comments from alumnae, students, parents, and staff members on the issue.
Transgender women will be able to apply for Smith College in fall.
On the other hand, transgender community was not convinced that the news would contribute too much to its members’ well-being. A spokesperson from the Trans Student Educational Resources said that the group was “happy” with Smith College decision but more needs to be done.
The group also said that it was a huge step for all its students, who are still bullied or rejected from groups because of their gender identification. As a solution, TSER proposed that Smith College should also allow trans men and people who don’t have a clear gender identification.
But Smith is not the only U.S. women’s-only college to admit transgender people. Mount Holyoke and Wellesley also announced that they would allow trans women.
Two years ago, Smith had to face a severe LGBT backlash for not allowing Calliope Wong, a transgender female applicant, because an official document showed she was male.
Wong, who is now a University of Connecticut student, said that no one should be forced to go through what he went through. Wong also stated that schools should focus on building the next generation of leaders, rather than discriminating against their students.
Yet not everyone is content with Smith’s latest decision. Former students believe that deconstructing the concept of “woman” in a way that anyone could identify as female was not serving the “historical purpose” of the school neither ts students’ needs.