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SMITH COLLEGE Q&A

Frequently Asked Questions

Feel free to ask us a new question, anonymously or otherwise, here.



Admissions Policy Reform

Q: What is the current policy?

A: A woman who is unable to obtain all female gender markers on her transcripts, teacher and guidance counselor letters of recommendation, and midyear academic report cannot attend Smith. Although the Common App requires legal sex as listed on a birth certificate, Smith has an unofficial practice of advising trans women to “just check female” on the Common App, but this “policy” is nowhere to be found on the official Smith website or on its admissions brochures.

Q: Was this always the policy?

A: No, after talks between Smith Q&A and the College’s Dean of Admission and Vice President of Enrollment, whatever documents an applicant submits to  the Office of Disability and/or the Office of Financial Aid do not need to contain all female gender markers.

Q: Why is it important to remove the requirement that every document an applicant submits to the Office of Admission must contain female gender markers?

A: Most states allow individual school districts to decide if students can change the gender markers on their documents. A a recent national study of trans high school students (of all genders) by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that less than half of students are able to get their documents changed. Additionally, Ada Comstock Scholars, who are not traditional-aged students, have explained to us that many schools will also be unable to change gender markers on outdated or paper records.

“The rules that govern changing gender markers on identity documents in the U.S. are inconsistent and arbitrary, and there is no such thing as a “legal gender.” Every ID-issuing agency has its own rules regarding whether and how people can change their gender marker. Some require a letter from a doctor or therapist, others require medical treatment, and others require specific medical interventions, including surgery. While some agencies are updating their policies by removing surgical requirements for gender ID change, such as the State Department’s passport policy, some are likely decades away from eliminating outdated standards. As a result, whether transgender people can change some of their documents depends on where they’re from. Women’s colleges should not be basing their admissions policies on an arbitrary, inconsistent and harmful system. Additionally, the process of obtaining gender ID change is particularly difficult for young and low-income people. Most applicants to college are barely 18 years old. Many ID-issuing agencies require medical treatment and/or letters from medical providers. Most young people, especially those without supportive parents, cannot access such care. Furthermore, many states’ Medicaid systems and some private health insurance companies have bans on covering this care. Tying admissions policies to gender on identification documents disproportionately excludes people who have the hardest time accessing health care and the legal and administrative processes required by these policies: young people, poor people, people with disabilities and people of color.” — “Women’s Colleges Are on the Wrong Side of History on Transgender Women” by Avi Cummings and Dean Spade, from TIME Magazine

Q: So what is Smith Q&A’s proposed solution?

A: Because we recognize that the avenues the government provides to affirm one’s gender legally are inaccessible to most trans women, Q&A’s ultimate goal regarding policy reform is that all trans women can apply to Smith College regardless of legal status, which is the policy at Mills College as well.

The Gender Supplement Compromise: “Should there be inconsistent/non-female gender markers or ambiguity about how an applicant identifies her gender, Smith admissions may request supplemental documentation from the applicant to confirm that the applicant has a female gender identity.  Documentation may include letters of support or explanation from medical or mental health providers, school administrators, teachers, guidance counselor, social workers, advisors, clergy, family, employer, etc.  The documentation is for the purpose of ensuring that the applicant is not asserting that she has a female gender identity for any improper purpose.  Any documentation confirming that the applicant asserts a female gender identity in most areas of her life shall be acceptable as confirmation that the student is female and eligible for consideration for admission to Smith College” (Updated Demands, Smith Q&A, full text here).

Although this is an imperfect solution in that many young trans women might not have people who could write these letters for them, it is one that we feel the administration will be most likely to feel comfortable with and it would open up access for many women.

More on why we can’t base admissions policies for trans women on legal gender:

Professor Dean Spade: Why Can’t Admissions Policies at Women’s Colleges be Based on “Legal Gender?” from Barnard Center for Research on Women Videos

Concerns

Q: Someone told me that trans women will be a threat to survivor’s space. Is this true?

A: Of course the safety needs of survivors are paramount, but the short answer is no. People of all genders and people with all different kinds of bodies can do sexual violence. It should also be noted that there are many people in the Smith community, on the campus, and in the houses on a daily basis who are assigned male at birth, such as 5 college students, professors and other staff members, and visitors.

Q: How would Smith be able to preserve its mission as a women’s college and still accept trans women?

A: If “trans women are women and this is a women’s college” is not enough for you:

"Well, the wake up call has happened, and now it’s time for the Smith community to decide what they want their school to be. Do they want it to be a women’s college that’s open to all women? There’s a lot of potential here for Smith to take a major step forward in fulfilling its mission by opening its doors for some of the most marginalized women" - "Skewed priorities mean Smith is not currently fulfilling its mission as a women’s college" — Feministing.com

"How can Smith be able to preserve its mission as a women’s college and *not*accept trans women? Seriously, is it even accurate to call it a women’s college when some women and kept from attending while their male counterparts are welcomed? Accepting *all* women is the best way to fulfill this mission. The reality is that many people, especially those involved in social justice, LGBTQ activism, or simply are a part of the younger generations that increasingly oppose anti-trans bias, see women’s colleges that exclude trans women as being hypocritical. I know some young women who choose not to apply to such colleges because they don’t want to be associated with this discrimination. I know others who hide the fact that their degree is from Smith because when they tell others they have been assumed to support discrimination and prejudice. Smith is quickly garnering a reputation as a school that actively harms women’s populations rather than a school that supports women. Is that a legacy you want to be remembered by?" - Tobi Hill-Meyer, trans academic, filmmaker, and activist

"We feel that the question(s) should not be, “Why are transgender students at Smith, and do they belong here?” but rather, “What can we do to make Smith College a safer and more supportive place for currently enrolled, future, and prospective transgender students? As well as ‘How can we begin to find room in our community for our sisters who are continually excluded?" - Tangent, chartered Smith Organization for trans issues, circa 2005-2006 

Q: But what about the men at Smith?

A: Q&A does not organize around issues of trans men. Q&A has no official stance on trans male Smithies. Our resources are best spent discussing and organizing around issues regarding the visibility, safety, and admission of trans women at Smith. Q&A members may have varying opinions regarding trans men at Smith, and some are trans men themselves, but we all agree trans women belong here.

Q: Will admitting trans women cause Smith to lose its Title IX status/affect financial aid?

A: According to legal experts we consulted, and Smith’s lawyers, no. Undergraduate private admissions are actually exempt from Title IX, which is why Smith can be a womens’ college. Besides, Title IX protects transgender students.

"This assumes that trans women are legally considered male. That’s just not the case. Even trans women with “male” on their documentation are increasingly being recognized by the courts as legal females with logistical difficulties leading to incorrect documentation. Massachusetts non-discrimination law includes discrimination on trans status and sees discrimination against trans women as illegal. Furthermore, case law around Title IX has specifically recognized discrimination against someone on the basis of being trans to be a part of the discrimination based on sexual characteristics that Title IX was created to address. While there isn’t direct precedent, there is a significant concern that discriminating against trans women is a greater liability risk than admitting trans women would be.” - Tobi Hill-Meyer

Katherine Kraschel, graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Harvard Law School has written a 24-page note to the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, “in which she debunks the assertions that Title IX can be used to defend the exclusion of transgender applicants from single-sex institutions, and that the admission of a transgender individual would force the school to become co-educational… Although the original 1970s language of Title IX relies heavily on a strict gender binary, contemporary interpretations of Title IX and the related Title VII, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have expanded them to include gender as well as sex, and to protect gender nonconforming individuals (as seen in Smith v. City of Salem and Schwenk v. Hartford). — Just Check ‘Female’: Trans Women and Smith College Admissions" by Sarah Giovannielo in Broad Recognition, Yale’s feminist magazine

Other Questions

Q: What’s wrong with calling trans women “male bodied”?

A: "Because it’s inaccurate, imprecise, there’s no consensus about what that term means, and terribly unclear what you are talking about." - Tobi Hill-Meyer, who wrote a very helpful piece on this topic here

“While many act as if ‘biologically male’ is an objective, impartial scientific reality, this insistence in practice serves as a means for larger society to negate the identity of transgender individuals. As a trans woman, I’m expected to simply accept that I’m inescapably male, even if others deign to acknowledge me as a ‘male woman’, and act as if there are no gendered connotations in this designation. What I hear when people insist that I acknowledge that I am male is that I can only ever aspire to be a woman to a point. No matter what lengths I go to to legitimize my identity, there will always be an external check in place to make sure that I know that the best I can hope for is being a woman with an asterisk. In other words, I can pretend to be a woman all I want, but “objective reality” will always say otherwise. … If we decided to acknowledge the self-identification of transgender individuals as a valid reality, rather than a superficial, subjective, and flimsy role, and if we didn’t insist on the primacy of a sexual designation that is anything but objective (chromosomes are not readily visible indicators of gender, rarely tested, and operate in ways far more complex than most people acknowledge, making designation by medical professionals in effect an educated guess) then perhaps transgender individuals could be more easily accepted as who they are.”- Kate Hache

“The two sex binary is a flawed social construct…. In our society sexing is based on 5 criteria: genes, gonads, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, and hormone patterns. Once we take into account all 5 of those criteria an actual majority of people don’t line up with either male or female in all 5 areas which means it’s not possible to classify most people along the strict binary the way people like you would like to…. Some form of intersex characteristics happen in approximately 2% of all live births in humans. That’s 2 out of every 100 which in a world with billions of people is a lot of people that don’t fit into either “male” or “female” and that obviously doesn’t include trans* people which makes the statistics higher. And that also doesn’t include the people who aren’t technically intersex but also don’t fully fit the biological construct of what a male or female “should” be which is far far more people that you realize or most medical doctors willing to admit.” — rapeculturerealities provides this explanation of some concepts from Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Anne Fausto-Sterling

Q: “Genuine question: Q&As page says their cause is regarding trans women. were they not founded for all queer people?”

A: "Q&A used to be called “Queers And Allies.” It was a queer social/activist group that eventually faded out and has nothing to do with the current Q&A at all. The current Q&A, when starting up in the middle of the media storm over Calliope Wong’s rejection, just repurposed, or rather revived, the old org rather with the specific mission of organizing for the inclusion of trans women at Smith. Queers and Allies got shortened to Q&A because we realized the name wasn’t really appropriate for our purposes and eventually it all worked out and became sloganized (Q: Trans women at Smith? A: Trans women at Smith.)