Smith College Confronts Transgender Issues

Three dozen students picketed the admissions office at Smith College last week. “The protest,” Inside Higher Ed reports, “called for Smith to admit those who may be listed as male on their high school transcripts but have been living as women.”

Smith explained that it does not discriminate against transgender students who are enrolled and indeed boasts that it “has a diverse and dynamic student body that includes individuals who identify as transgender. Students at Smith, whatever their gender identity or gender expression are diverse, accomplished, and various in their views.” Nevertheless, it insisted, “[i]n its mission and legal status, Smith is a women’s college … and expects that, to be eligible for review, a student’s application and supporting documentation (transcripts, recommendations, etc.) will reflect her status as a woman.”

A similar controversy erupted last year when Smith rejected the application of Calliope Wong, a male-to-female transgender student. “As you may remember from our previous correspondence,” the Smith Dean of Admissions wrote to Ms./Mr. Wong, “Smith is a women’s college, which means that undergraduate applicants to Smith must be female at the time of admission.” The protesters are protesting, a leader of the demonstrations stated, because they “want the college to accept a supplemental letter with an application that attests that the applicant while identified as male on high school transcripts identifies and lives as a woman.”

Unclear from the material I have seen, however, is how both Smith and its protesting students would feel about female-to-male transgender applicants. Would Smith accept the application of students whose records indicated they were female but who identified themselves as male and who “have been living as” men? Do the protesters think Smith should admit such “male” students? If allowed to apply, such students would no doubt be “underrepresented” at Smith. Should they therefore be given preferential treatment, i.e., admitted with lower qualifications, because of the contribution they would make to “diversity”?

Here’s another question, and not just for Smithies: since our new understanding of civil rights, resting as it does on the assumption that gender and race are “social constructs,” regards self-identification as the controlling determinant of individual identity and thus requires Smith to classify as a woman anyone who says she’s a woman, should not all institutions regard as black or Hispanic anyone who says he or she is black or Hispanic, regardless or color or contradictory information in the student’s records? Should not a refusal to do so, a refusal to regard a student as black simply because he or she is not, well, black be regarded as blatant racial discrimination? How, for example, could Harvard not have regarded Elizabeth Warren as Native American after she said she was Native American?

As an institution whose “mission and legal status” require it to exclude roughly half the population of the world (males) from membership in its community, Smith would hardly seem to be in a position to prattle the same claptrap about “diversity” that is the lingua franca, common core, and shared faith of all selective institutions these days, but prattle it nevertheless does:

The Office of Institutional Diversity was created in 1996 with the belief that diversity in all aspects of the educational environment is necessary for achieving the highest level of academic excellence. We believe that when a community is rich with varying perspectives, outlooks and values, the potential to prepare its members to deal more readily with complexity and to participate productively in a pluralistic society is greatly increased.

Surely admitting several transgendered students would add more “diversity” to Smith than an additional few blacks or Hispanics. Perhaps it could even find some transgendered applicants who are black or Hispanic, covering several bases at once.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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