Smith College, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious all-women colleges, has decided to start enrolling transgender students, the school announced over the weekend.
Smith, chartered in 1871 and located in Northampton, Massachusetts, is one of the oldest of the Seven Sisters colleges, and its notable alumnae include Nancy Reagan, feminist icons Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, and author personality Julia Child. Now, those graduates can be joined by biological men, provided those men no longer identify as such.
The new policy comes after the school spent a year formally studying the possibility, and upends an earlier policy which requires that applicants have been consistently identified as female from birth.
“In the years since Smith’s founding, concepts of female identity have evolved,” President Kathleen McCartney said in the school’s announcement. “Smith alumnae have been leaders in the movement to afford women greater freedoms of aspiration and self-expression.”
Notably, the new policy also opens the school to “gender non-binary” students, those who claim they are part of a third gender, all genders, or no genders at all. At the same time, however, Smith’s FAQ regarding the new policy says these individuals must also identify as women, leaving it unclear how this openness will be applied in practice.
The college also noted that biological females who identify as men will still be excluded from admission, as “Smith does not accept applications from men.” However, female students who begin transitioning to a male identity after matriculating will not face any consequences.
A transgender individual is one who identifies with a gender different from their biological sex. A biological male doesn’t necessarily have to have received sex-reassignment surgery or even hormone treatments in order to be considered a transgendered female, meaning that some of the college’s newly-admitted trans students could be decidedly male in their physical attributes.
McCartney said she has created a working group in order to investigate how to accommodate these new students in athletics, housing, bathrooms, and other components of campus life.
Smith isn’t the first women’s college to loosen its standards regarding who qualifies as a woman. Mount Holyoke College announced it would start admitting the transgendered last fall, and Wellesley College made a similar announcement two months ago.
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