All-female college agrees to accept men who identify as women
A transgender woman’s nationwide protest has led several all-female colleges to open their doors to transgender students in the wake of a surge in LGBT activism.
NBC News reports that in 2013 Calliope Wong applied to Smith College, an independent women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts, but was rejected because she was born male. At that point, Wong had not yet undergone gender reassignment surgery, but nonetheless identified as a female.
The college returned the application fee, along with a letter explaining the rejection. Wong posted a photo of the letter on her Tumblr account on March 10, 2013, along with comments thanking readers for supporting her.
“Smith is a women’s college, which means that undergraduate applicants to Smith must be female at the time of admission,” the letter states.
“Smith would not process my application, despite the fact that I had spoken to Dean of Admission extensively over the summer about who I was and my specific case,” Wong continues. “My FAFSA reading ‘male’ was targeted . . . as the reason why I was not a woman in Smith’s eyes.”
Wong told HuffPost that while she is not appealing the college’s decision to reject her application, she is not willing to give up on her activism for transgenders.
“This does not mean that I am in any way giving up on my cause,” she said after receiving her rejection letter. “I do this for the transfolk like me, so that they might inherit better policies and a more just system of education.”
After hearing Wong’s story, GLAAD, a LGBT activist group, took up the fight and began helping Wong try to change Smith’s policies, along with the student group called Smith Q&A.
Smith Q&A created a Change.org petition to demand that Smith College open its addmissions to transgender women. By the time it ended, the online petition earned over 5,000 signatures, but failed to reach its goal of 7,500 signatures.
Despite being denied acceptance at Smith college, Wong went on to graduate from the University of Connecticut as an English and pre-med honors student.
Two years after Wong’s nationwide activism, Smith College changed its policy in May of 2015, and now accepts applications from all students who identify as female.
Several top women’s colleges across the country, such as Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard have followed suit. Mount Holyoke College, also in Massachusetts, was the first to accept transgender students in 2014.
Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s transgender media program, praised Smith College’s change in policy.
“Transgender people are starting to live as their authentic selves at younger ages,” he said. “Thanks to advocates like Calliope Wong, young trans women can attend any college in the country.”
Lynn Pasquerella, president of nearby Mount Holyoke College, responded to Wong’s situation, saying that “being a woman is not static. It’s a social construct, just as race is a social construct.”
Since opening enrollment to transgender women, Pasquerella claims that around 10 Smith students each year are undergoing transition. In addition, Smith College says it also accepts female students who may or may not transition into males during their matriculation.
“We are not abandoning our mission,” she added. “We understand gender fluidity . . . It’s complicated and we believe it’s truly a human rights and civil rights issue.”
Wong says she is now seeking to become an endocrinologist and work with transgender patients and patients with hormone disorders.
On her plans to be “culturally competent,” she said, “I am many other things besides trans . . . As people grow they become more things. It’s our job as people to integrate these parts and to give other people the potential to integrate, too.”
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