Lee: Transgender women and women’s colleges


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Two of 119 same-sex colleges in the United States have recently updated their admissions policies to be more transgender-inclusive.

Mills College, a liberal-arts institution located in Oakland, California, followed by Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, are the first two women’s colleges to allow prospective students who self-identify as women to apply to their schools.

As of this fall, transgender women and students whose gender-identity may fall outside the confinements of the male/female binary can be admitted.

According to Mount Holyoke’s Admissions of Transgender Students page, students who qualify for admission have been expanded to those that identify as a woman, other, or no gender at all, regardless of biological status at birth.

This is an incredible step forward.

My hope is that other women’s colleges will update their admissions policies as well. Subsequently, this will place assigned identity, legal identity, and self-identity in conversation with one another.

Moreover, it is imperative for institutions of higher learning to not only challenge transphobic notions but to also challenge the gender binary because it has become such an outdated method of confining people. We are entering a time when gender expression and gender fluidity are important components of asserting one’s selfhood in everyday life.

Women’s colleges at large — created in part to empower, assist, and provide the necessary tools for women in a heavily sexist and patriarchal society — should extend their tradition by promoting inclusivity and acceptance for those who self-identify as a woman and are non-gender conforming.

While Mills College and Mount Holyoke’s new admissions policies may be upsetting to some cisgender men and women who hold negative perceptions of transgender women, we must all work to dismantle not only transphobic perceptions, attitudes, and practices, but what we have been conditioned to think is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to gender identity and the gender binary.

Anyone who self-identifies as a woman has the right to seek an academic space that re-affirms her womanhood.

Mills College and Mount Holyoke’s historic purpose has not been forgotten. They still seek to serve and uplift women in higher education. However, administrators and officials are also understanding of the complexity and nuances of gender identity in the present day.

Mount Holyoke expresses its commitment and devotion to assisting women by reminding us that

“[W]e must acknowledge that gender identity is not reducible to the body. Instead, we must look at identity in terms of the external context in which the individual is situated. It is this positionality that is relevant when women’s colleges open their gates for those aspiring to live, learn, and thrive within a community of women.”

College is a place that welcomes the individual to explore, develop, and re-affirm his or her identity. Mills and Mount Holyoke College are two  that now seek to do just that for their students.

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