Gender-specific colleges should be gender inclusive

As American society slowly becomes more inclusive of the LGBTQ community, the inevitable conflicts between existing policies and personal needs will arise. In the case of gender-specific colleges, the struggle is how and when to admit transgender students.

While women’s colleges may have reservations about admitting someone outside the biological definition of female, there should be a place for transgender women because they face just as much prejudice as all women have historically faced.

At Smith College, one of the Seven Sisters women’s colleges founded to give women an equal opportunity for a good education and leadership roles, students protested the college’s refusal to admit transgender students who have not undergone gender reassignment surgery, according to an April 24 The Republican report. This is not the first time the college has taken heat for this policy. In March 2013, after the college rejected Calliope Wong, a male-to-female transgender student who had not undergone gender reassignment surgery yet, she gained support through a blog post detailing her rejection from her college of choice because of her sex at birth. Smith’s administration explained that it will accommodate current female students who choose to go through gender reassignment to become male, but all students have to be female at the time of admission.

Women’s colleges were founded as a haven for women at a time when they were not receiving equal opportunities at general institutions. Today, 56.8 percent of college students are female according to the U.S. Census Bureau, erasing the original need for women’s colleges. However, they still provide an environment where women can take leadership roles and socialize without fear of sexism, condescension or misunderstanding. Much like historically black colleges and universities, gender-specific institutions are an option that provides familiarity for students who may not feel other colleges offer the same chance to excel.

However, these are women’s colleges, not female colleges. Someone who identifies as female needs just as much, if not more, protection from sexism and harassment as someone who happens to be born female. Some studies have found that as many as 90 percent of transgender respondents reported being harassed or mistreated in workplaces, according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality. In general, Americans are still unsure of how to place people that do not fit neatly into the male or female dichotomy, and as a result transgender individuals suffer personal affronts and social neglect. Many colleges are making steps toward inclusion, installing gender-neutral bathrooms and allowing students to express preferred pronouns in classes. Gender-specific institutions need to reevaluate their policies to include all people who want to attend, not just those who fit the traditional gender definition.

The requirement that admitted students must be biologically female is dated and should be reevaluated at all gender-specific institutions. Colleges may be stuck in their ways or concerned about alumni opinions, but that is no reason to perpetuate injustice toward students who want to attend an institution specific to their gender identity. If the college already makes accommodations for current students who come out as transgender, there would be little difference in admitting a student who is not physically female but identifies as such.

Part of a college’s role in education is to encourage dialogue about social issues. The controversy surrounding gender binaries is one that single-sex colleges have a unique responsibility to address, setting the tone for other institutions. Admitting transgender students could mean progress in addressing transgender inequality and would help students cross the gender gap more comfortably and successfully. If women’s colleges truly claim to be a launching pad that supports up-and-coming women leaders in all areas of their endeavors, they should serve transgender women as well as those who are born physically female.