Smith’s trans problem

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Brown '16 ||  Smith College has not truly supported transwomen beyond the application process, Hunter R. Myers ’18 writes. 

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Brown '16 || Smith College has not truly supported transwomen beyond the application process, Hunter R. Myers ’18 writes. 

Hunter R. Myers ‘18
Contributing Writer

 

I am immensely grateful to and for Smith College for a wide range of reasons. Regarding my transness, Smith has been, in many respects, an oasis. It is where I have most often felt comfortable and safe being my trans self. It is because of this that I think Smith can, and must, do better for all trans people. 

In Spring 2015, Smith College announced a policy change that would allow transwomen to apply for undergraduate admission. Loud student support urged the administration to move forward.  It seemed that the student body, and eventually the administration, really did want transwomen to be able to attend Smith College. 

However, since the change in college policy the administration has made no indication of intent to provide any infrastructure that would make transwomen, at any point in their transition, able to attend Smith comfortably and safely. The infrastructure needed to adequately follow through with this policy includes but is not limited to: housing, bathrooms, specific support networks, comprehensive healthcare for any desired medical transition and financial support if a transperson’s family withdraws or refuses that support. 

What is more is that there has been no attempt from the student body to change this. There has been no conversation, let alone action. 

The student body responded to the administration’s change in application policy with exasperated sighs of “It’s about time.” As much as we fancy ourselves more progressive than the administration, the vast majority of the student population is equally culpable in the gross silence that has followed this policy change. 

For me, attending Smith is an exercise in balance. Everyday I need to justify my place in the world. Magnified by Smith students’ cruelly ignorant facade of trans-allyship, I need to justify my presence even more so at Smith. Perhaps the juxtaposition of a body that can contain both an oppressed group and an oppressive one – a transgender person and the perception of a white man – simply overwhelms the intersectional guidelines within which Smith cogitates. 

Balancing the transient privilege attached to my perceived “maleness” has come with years’ worth of daily prejudices. I am asked for my Smith ID in classrooms, dining halls and the gym. I have had to weigh the worth of a class with the probability of being misgendered by a notorious professor. I cannot play any varsity sports for which I was recruited. 

Compared to the challenges I’ve experienced outside of college, Smith’s failures seem rather shallow. I have nothing but gratitude for how the world has interacted with my transness. Smith needs to intentionally provoke the awareness and goodness in itself in order to help make being trans an identity that closes no doors. 

The lukewarm implementation of the admissions policy cannot be understood without first understanding how Smith currently treats its trans students. And the vast majority of Smith is clueless. Truly welcoming transwomen to Smith would require the college acknowledging that a student’s gender identity determines the quality of education Smith provides.

The application policy is described as one of self-identification, welcoming “Applicants who were assigned male at birth but identify as women are eligible for admission.” To truly accept any person who self-identifies as a woman requires support and infrastructure that Smith does not offer because it would require the school to complicate what it means to be a woman. 

Why? Why would admitting students who might not “look like women” require an interrogation of womanhood when there are students already attending the college who do not “look like women”? Because the college, and the silence from the cis-student population echoes this belief, considers students and alumnae who don’t identify as women, women. Because regardless of one’s “self-identification,” if an applicant is not at a point where they would feel comfortable in this predominantly cisgender female student body, the college will not help them get there. 

While accepting undergraduate applications from transwomen does not necessitate a deep level of institutional reflection, making this education widely accessible to transpeople requires profound interrogation of the binary bones of this institution.  

The majority of Smith desires the perception of inclusivity that a change in policy provides, but not the challenges that go with implementing those policy changes. And when I say, “Smith” I am talking about staff, faculty, administration, alumni and students. I’m especially talking about the cisgender students reading this and thinking, “Me? Surely not!” I can promise that it is, in fact, you. So while I do believe that much of the student body, faculty and administration wanted, and want, transwoman to be able to attend the college. I don’t believe that they want transwomen to actually attend. 

What needs to happen immediately is the following: Students, faculty and administrators must recognize the daily violations of its own anti-discrimination policy. Smith College needs clear and absolute guidelines that prohibit discrimination and/or discriminatory behavior on the basis of gender identity. Smith College needs to enforce those guidelines. 

Smith College needs to provide medical care that specifically attends to the needs of transfolk and to provide insurance for that care. Smith College needs to provide housing and bathrooms appropriate and comfortable for transpeople. Smith College needs to provide financial support in the case that a transperson’s family withdraws or refuses that support. 

Ultimately, and inevitably if the above steps are taken, Smith College needs to address the limitations and implications of how it is defined. However, the identity of a “Women’s College” should not inhibit the school’s ability to respect all of its past, present and future students.