We have been hearing about how various women’s colleges are responding to the challenges presented by the way in which gender is currently evolving in our society and culture. The question facing women’s colleges should be distinguished from the general matter of civil rights that transgender people should expect and the respect they should enjoy from fellow members of society. It has to do specifically with whether an institution believes itself to have a continuing mission as a women’s college.
There are different forms of transgenderism, among them being those biological/legal males who identify as women; biological/legal women who identify as men; and those who, for various reasons and in various ways, do not feel themselves to fit within a two-gender system at all.
Of these different categories, the one that women’s colleges would seem to have the most compelling need to address is that of persons who are legally male as identified by our society (based on biology/anatomy), but who feel themselves to be women and wish to be considered as such. One can well understand why a women’s college would want to be open to them. Here the question is what admissions criteria a college may use so as to preserve the institution as a women’s college while admitting these students. Legal advice will surely be useful in this context.
It is also fitting and proper – as well as being generally the case – that women’s colleges support individual students who enter as women in the terms defined by our society and subsequently find themselves on a different gender journey. They should feel welcome, receive the support they may need through the remainder of their time at the college, and be received happily among the institution’s alums.
Beyond that, it is less clear why a women’s college should feel the need or the responsibility to make institutional adaptations to the general category of biological/anatomical women who already self-identify as men by the time they apply to college. While there is no legal basis for denying admission to such students, one well might question their expectation that a women’s college should make a variety of special adaptations to them as a subgroup of the student body. Insofar as transgenderism involves taking a less biologically fundamentalist approach to gender, then why would one emphasize the difference between a biological male and a transman (i.e., a biological female who self-identifies as male)? And why would a women’s college make the kind of adaptation to transmen that it would not make to men who have come by that status in a more traditional way?
If, indeed, the goal is to take less of a biologically fundamentalist approach to gender, then one would think an appropriate response to such students would be encouraging them to apply to some destination other than a women’s college to pursue their higher education. A similar point might be made for young people who do not want such categories as “women” and “men” to apply to them at all.
Some transmen who apply to women’s colleges have said that they do so because these are places where they would feel safe. This raises the question of what it takes these days to make students feel “safe” and whether the lengths to which colleges tend to go in that project – the many “safe” spaces that have been popping up on campuses for various special groups – do more to enhance a sense of vulnerability than to make young people stronger. It is hard to imagine that transgender students would be in greater danger at a place like Hampshire, Bard, Wesleyan, Antioch, Macalester or any number of institutions especially known for their open attitudes to culture change than at Wellesley or Mount Holyoke.
Unless, of course, they were buying into some familiar gender stereotypes, which would seem to be the case for women’s colleges themselves if they were to assert that they are uniquely qualified to welcome transgender students. Women’s colleges might argue that, having dealt with one stigmatized and disadvantaged group, they are well-situated to deal with another. But, just as women’s colleges do not and would not want to corner the market on feminists, so they do not and should not want to corner the market on those able to understand and accept transgenderism. Moreover, it is not as if women’s colleges hold some kind of privileged place in the world of higher education or operate as special paths to social privilege, as men’s colleges did once upon a time.
In brief, it would be reasonable and understandable for a women’s college to decide that gender as a basis for admission and for participation in the life of the institution no longer makes sense in this day and age. The college could then decide that it no longer wishes to be a women’s college. But, if it still wishes to be a women’s college, then it should reasonably be expected to serve women.
Judith Shapiro is former president of Barnard College and also is a former professor and provost at Bryn Mawr College.
Simmons College, in Massachusetts, has become the third women's college to announce that it will admit transgender applicants, The Boston Globe reported. Many women's colleges, formally or informally, have not taken action against students who enroll as women and who later determine that they identify as male. Simmons is now formally stating that such student are welcome. In addition, Simmons will now admit those who are born biologically male but who identify as women.
Murray State University is deferring new applications from prospective students in the Ebola-stricken countries Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the Murray Ledger & Timesreported. The university will not allow students from these countries to enter in January and will instead defer their admission until the fall.
A total of 20,343 students enrolled in medical colleges this fall, an increase of 1.4 percent and a record number, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced. Number of under-represented minorities were also up, with the Latino increase (1.8 percent) exceeding the rate of increase over all, while the black increase (1.1 percent) lagged.
Enrollments in osteophathic medical schools increased at a slightly higher rate. The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine reported that new enrollments in its 30 member schools grew by 5.2 percent this fall, to 6,786.
The College Board is holding back SAT scores from October tests given in China and Korea, amid investigation into allegations of cheating on the SAT in those countries, The Washington Post reported. Testing companies have struggled with test security in Asia.
Lynn U.'s tablet revolution marches on. Its next initiative: affordable online degree programs delivered exclusively through iPads -- at tuition rates that are a fraction of what the university regularly charges.
Bloomberg Philanthropies and other nonprofit groups will today announce a new effort to help talented low-income high school students get into and succeed in college, The New York Times reported. The effort will involve hiring 130 full-time college counselors and 4,000 college students who will be part-time counselors. With video chat and other tools, the counselors will attempt to provide the kind of guidance offered at high schools that serve wealthy students.