This Mass. College Just Took a Step Forward on Human Rights

By David Bloch | 09/03/2014

Mount Holyoke College, a top liberal arts women’s college in South Hadley, has changed its admissions policy to allow applications from transgender women. The change was announced by College President Lynn Pasquarella at the school’s convocation ceremony on Tuesday.

The new policy declares, “Mount Holyoke College welcomes applications for our undergraduate program from any qualified student who is female or identifies as a woman.”

Mount Holyoke is now the second women’s college in the country to make their official admissions policy inclusive of trans women. Yesterday’s announcement comes on the heels of Mills College’s decision to officially welcome transgender students last week.

Pasquarella said, “while we have welcomed trans students in the past […] we needed a formal policy: one that would articulate our commitment to core values of individual freedom, social justice, and diversity and inclusion.”

However, representatives from Open Gates, a campus group dedicated to promoting full inclusion of trans women at the school, told Buzzfeed last week, “we know that trans women have been […] excluded from Mount Holyoke. It’s significant that so many women are flat out excluded from ever attending.”

Also according to Buzzfeed, Smith College, another women’s college and member of the Five Colleges consortium of the Pioneer Valley, faced criticism from students last year after they rejected a trans woman’s application because “a federal student aid form identified her as male.” Smith, despite pressure from students to be more inclusionary towards trans applicants, has not made any changes.

Meanwhile, Mount Holyoke’s announcement was met with universal approval from students and alumni who have campaigned for trans inclusion for some time.

The policy statement makes it clear that Mount Holyoke believes traditional conceptions of gender identity are insufficient in defining “what it means to be a woman” and therefore, who should be accepted at the school:

“[…] Mount Holyoke remains committed to its historic mission of providing access to excellence for academically talented women regardless of socioeconomic background. The College values each student’s development, both academically and personally, and recognizes that self-identity may change over time. […] Concepts of what it means to be a woman are not static. Traditional binaries around who counts as a man or woman are being challenged by those whose gender identity does not conform to their biology. Those bringing forth these challenges recognize that such categorization is not independent of political and social ideologies. Just as early feminists argued that the reduction of women to their biological functions was a foundation for women’s oppression, we must acknowledge that gender identity is not reducible to the body. Instead, we must look at identity in terms of the external context in which the individual is situated. It is this positionality that biological and transwomen share, and it is this positionality that is relevant when women’s colleges open their gates for those aspiring to live, learn, and thrive within a community of women.”

The full policy statement has been made available online.

h/t MassLive