Student activism may prompt a change in admissions policy at Smith College with respect to prospective students who identify as transgender. Smith College, an all female school, has recently refused the application of a Connecticut high school student who was born male but identifies as female. The school says the federal financial aid form identifies the student as male, although other documents, like the transcript and letters of recommendation, refer to the student as female. Problems have arisen because many states require a process including sexual re-assignment surgery before legally changing a person’s gender—steps the transitioning student has not taken. First-year Smith student Elli Palmer is a member of a student group that’s been meeting with Smith’s administration. She says this week the school agreed to stop using the gender indication on financial aid forms as a disqualifier and invited students to develop a list of best practices for admissions for transgender applicants. Palmer says, definitions are not simple.
“Womanhood isn’t something that comes from a letter on a birth certificate, it’s something that comes from experiences.”
Lynn Pasquerella is president of the nearby all-female Mt. Holyoke College. She says her school does not rule out prospective students because of gender-status inconsistencies in application documents, but there’s an ongoing conversation about what standards to use regarding gender status.
“Who gets to decide who is a woman, and on what grounds? A lot of the discussion has focused on the fact that if we use biology at birth as a marker than that is a matter of transmisogyny, but then on what basis do we make those decisions?”
Smith students say the school has agreed to form a committee during the next school year to talk through these issues. Despite repeated request, Smith College declined to comment for this story.