Wellesley College let its first transgender students start class Tuesday, joining a group of all-female academic institutions like Smith, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard that accept transgender applicants.
“For me to be accepted to one of the best colleges for women in the nation, it is a big validation of the person that I have become. At first I couldn’t believe it,” said 28-year-old Ninotska Love, one of the students starting at Wellesley according to the Associated Press. “I’m so thankful to be here,” he added.
“As the leading liberal arts college for women, Wellesley’s mission is to educate women who will make a difference in the world — and those women represent diversity in every dimension,” said a Wellesley spokesman in a statement.
Mills College was the first American women’s college to admit transgender women, and since 2014, at least eight other colleges have followed suit.
“I think it’s a step forward, one that’s long overdue,” said the director of the Stonewall Center at Amherst University Genny Beemyn. “If they say they’re women, then saying that they can’t attend is denying their identities and marginalizing them,” she added.
The number of transgender students attending women’s colleges is largely unknown, mostly because these colleges say releasing these numbers would cause privacy concerns for the students. Other colleges claim they don’t keep records of the gender identity of students, and some are afraid that giving out information on transgender attendance will not sit well with donors. Some colleges, like Mills College, do keep track of transgender enrollment numbers, however. Mills says 8 percent of its undergrads are transgender.
Empowering women has “always been the historic role of women’s colleges,” Dean of students at Mills College Chicora Martin told AP. “The definition of gender and gender identity has broadened, and yet it’s still very much that mission.”
Some alumnae don’t agree and argue that the policy changes upset and make light of the college’s mission to provide education for those who have been marginalized because they were born female.
Other women’s colleges accept transgender students but have tighter restrictions than merely claiming to be a woman. Hollins University requires its applicants to either be born female or to prove that they have both legally and surgically transitioned to become a woman. The policy “supports how the university defines its mission as an undergraduate institution of higher learning for women,” said Hollins University spokesman Jeff Hodges to the AP.
The policy changes come after co-ed schools, like Harvard, implemented their own rules whereby students list what pronouns they would like to be referred to at orientation, and classmates or professors who do not use the correct gender pronouns face disciplinary action. “It feels really invalidating to have people make an assumption about what your gender is simply by looking at you,” said Genny Beemyn, about Harvard’s policy change, according to CBS News. Changes like these represent an “acceleration of a trend that we have been seeing for the past few years,” Beemyn added.
Wellesley College did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment in time for publication.
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