Should transgender individuals be allowed entry into women’s colleges? This question was posed in a weekend Wall Street Journal opinion piece. As it stands, some women’s colleges across the country are accepting transgender students- notably those who were born one gender and identify with another. Single-sex colleges, almost all being those for females, have long traditions of being beacons for liberal arts, free thought, common cause and were built as an alternative to the male-heavy East Coast schools. According to The Wall Street Journal article, 230 women’s colleges existed fifty years ago and today, there are only 46. As progressive policies finally took shape over the past fifty years, there was either no need for single-sex colleges or single-sex college became co-ed. Now that there are more women in college than men, near universal equality and few barriers to hiring women, the single-sex college model is no longer in great demand. The question is, can transgender students fit-in with the larger single-sex college communities and should transgender students be allowed entry into such schools?
While it is fitting for the times to blindly accept one’s identity, there are real questions and issues that exist. If a transgender student, one who was previously male and now is female, is accepted into a single-sex college, can a female student refuse to live with a recently transitioned individual? If you say yes, you would be incorrect, as federal anti-discrimination laws protect transgender students and their privacy regarding how they identify. Can schools, such as Smith and Barnard, who claim to be women’s colleges still be seen women’s colleges if someone identifies as genderqueer or androgynous? What about issues of religious freedom, notably orthodox Jews and observers of the Islamic faith? Are their religious rights protected that prohibit them from being with someone they see as male?
It seems that single-sex colleges are being reactionary and are quickly adhering to the sweeping movement of questioning little, sometimes alienating other students. In the Journal article, one Barnard student thinks the school compromised its identity as a women’s college. Initially, schools like Barnard are acting with the best intentions. However, hindsight appears to show a greater divide about how to proceed with transgender students.
Is it enough to accept someone simply because he or she identifies a certain way? I also bring this up in the context of Rachel Dolezal, the Washington state woman who says she is black (and was president of a local NAACP chapter), but does not look black and has lied about her parents’ identity. Is it fair or OK for her to say she is black and align herself with social, cultural and historical issues that are common in the African-American community? The answer is no, just as transgender students at single-sex colleges cannot identify with job discrimination based on perceived sex and the women’s suffrage movement. I am not saying transgender students cannot identify with discrimination, because they are frequent, if not the most frequent recipients of discrimination across the globe. But, I wonder if female students feel slighted during class when discussing issues that pertain to women.
It is important to be fair in the college acceptance process. But fair is not ubiquitous for an open-door policy. In the long run, single-sex schools will lose students who feel uncomfortable around transgender students. These feelings should not be dismissed as prejudice. Rather they should highlight the real discomfort some students have with the gender issues.