Mount Holyoke: Second Women's College and First Seven Sister to Admit Trans Women
Sarah Robbins '17 Assistant Features Editor
Mount Holyoke has become the first of the Seven Sisters to explicitly allow the admission of trans women. The issue of trans women’s acceptance at women’s colleges has made national headlines this past year, especially regarding Smith, where the admissions rejection of student Calliope Wong spurred the activist organization Q&A to hold school-wide protests dedicated to opening Smith to trans women.
Mount Holyoke’s new guidelines read as follows: all female-assigned students may apply, including agendered students, students who use nonbinary pronouns, students identifying as male and cisgender female students. Male-assigned students identifying as anything other than male may also apply. The shorter list is the category the college will not consider accepting: only students who are both assigned male at birth and male identifying.
“I am very pleased that Mount Holyoke changed their policy of admitting all trans women. I think this change will raise the issues that many trans [people] face,” Juliana Lam, Mount Holyoke ’17, said.
While Mount Holyoke is the first of the Seven Sisters to incorporate these kinds of guidelines, it is not the first single-sex school to do so. Mills College in California was the first single-sex undergraduate institution to open its doors to all self-identified women this year, although unlike Holyoke, they do not accept students who identify as male.
As the college’s website states, “concepts of what it means to be a woman are not static.” The changes reflect the Mount Holyoke administration’s decision to be “as inclusive as [they] can with respect to gender identity.” For instance, if a trans woman were to come out as male during their time at the college, they would not be ousted. “Once students are admitted, the College supports them regardless of their sex or gender identity,” the policy states, adding, “We choose to be proactive. We choose to define membership in a women's college expansively …[while] still fulfilling our mission as a women’s college.”
Smith’s administration has so far avoided this issue. While Smith doesn’t deny admittance to all trans women, and has accepted at least one trans woman, its policy states that the college “expects that, to be eligible for review, a student's application and supporting documentation …will reflect her identity as a woman.”
As Q&A explains, this policy is not an easy or supportive one for many trans students. The student must have female markers on all documents, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, and academic reports. “I wish Smith were where Mount Holyoke is,” Kate Scrimshaw-Hall ’16 said.
“Most states allow individual school districts to decide if students can change the gender markers,” explains Q&A, pointing out that in many cases, documentation change is out of the student’s control. This especially harms low-income students and those from areas not accepting of trans women and trans issues. Smith’s policy adds to the discrimination trans women face rather than detracting from it.
Mount Holyoke’s choice to admit trans men may still warrant scrutiny. By including everyone assigned female at birth, Mount Holyoke avoids the possibility of having to force current trans male students out, but is also making a statement that could be considered, on some level, biologically essentialist. “I think it's a step in the right direction, making an effort to be more inclusive. The fact that Mount Holyoke is recognizing all trans women says a lot and Smith needs to wake up,” Kelsey Conti, Mount Holyoke ’17, said.
Not everyone is happy about the new policy. Among the least transphobic of one Mount Holyoke student’s remarks was the comment, “While I am a person who stands up for equality and all of that, I still feel it takes away from the essence of a ‘women’s college.’ While it is fair, that everyone needs the same opportunity, I do not feel that this was a very wise decision.” This student spoke on the condition of anonymity.