Access and inclusion at (women’s) colleges

20 Oct

The NY Times Magazine published a thoughtful, complicated article about the changing the fact that “a small but increasing number of students at [women’s colleges] do not identify as women [but as transmasculine, transfeminine, gender queer or agender], raising the question of what it means to be a ‘women’s college'” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/magazine/when-women-become-men-at-wellesley-college.html).

The implications of gender-inclusive admissions is rich and complex–I’ll let you read for yourself and just note here what stood out for me from an organizational standpoint. As Wellesley works out its policies and adapts to a shifting population and culture, its current practice is that “[o]nce individuals have enrolled and announced that they are trans, the schools, more or less, leave it to the students to work out how trans classmates fit into a women’s college.”

Hmm. What is “left to the students to work out” includes institutional identity, philosophy and language; access to resources and opportunities within the community; and the navigation of gender politics that suggest a white transmasculine student is both “the man” and oppressed by a cisgender feminist institution.

While I appreciate the honesty from within women’s colleges that they don’t know yet how admissions, student development, and their own institutional identities will evolve, I think that honesty can and should be paired with the responsibility to work with their students to figure out how the gender spectrum doesn’t just fit into a women’s college, but illuminates core values and, in some cases, compels an expansion of the school so that it fits its students.

Note: For a helpful explanation of gender concepts and terminology, I encourage you to check out Gender Spectrum’s helpful article “Understanding Gender”: https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/

** Thanks to my friend and colleague JR for sharing this article.

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