By Molly Shilo
Last month, Mount Holyoke College, a women’s college, located in South Hadley, Massachusetts, became the second women’s college in the country to officially change its admission policy to allow for transgender people. While the school has welcomed the transgender community for years, it now formally recognizes the acceptance of anyone who is biologically female or who identifies as a female. This new policy thus opens Mount Holyoke’s doors to transgender women, transgender men, genderqueer individuals who identify as other/they/ze as well as those biologically born with male or female anatomy who identify as female.
Mount Holyoke College, through the adoption of its new policy, recognizes the difficulties this community faces in determining who they are in a society that desperately wants to label them as one thing. On their admissions website, the college states, “Traditional binaries around who counts as a man or woman are being challenged by those whose gender identity does not conform to their biology… 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.”
Students at Mount Holyoke appreciate the changes made by administration to modify the admission policy. Elizabeth Huang, a sophomore student at Mount Holyoke, states, “When Lynn Pasquerella (the president of the college) announced the new policy, I think I and most of the Mount Holyoke community were really excited and happy about the news. I know some people are worried that this policy will make us a co-ed school or less of a women’s college, but I personally do not think that this will be the case. Though we are extending the stipulations needed to be accepted to Mount Holyoke, we are not deviating in any form from the core values of our college.”
While this is certainly a concern at all-women’s colleges, the fundamental societal issues that the school is attempting to transform are, in fact, universal. Huang hopes that Mount Holyoke inspires other schools to look at their policies. “I hope this new policy change really sparks more trans-acceptance not only within Mount Holyoke, but to the Seven Sisters and beyond. It is important that not only do women’s colleges become more accepting but all schools and institutions as well.”
Students at Fordham applaud what Mount Holyoke has done and are reassured by the presence of schools that are so actively inclusive.
Genevieve McNamara, FCRH’17, says, “I think it’s awesome that Mount Holyoke and other colleges are examining their admissions policies and are making a formalized effort to include trans and otherwise gender non-conforming individuals. As we come to recognize gender as a spectrum, in a lot of ways women’s colleges have a more complicated relationship and, urgent need to understand and deal with their trans students than co-ed colleges do; at the same time, they seem to be uniquely qualified to engage meaningfully with the question of gender and with those students who don’t conform.”
Though Mount Holyoke will be sure to ignite further schools into adopting a more inclusive admissions policy, their actions also speak to co-ed schools that do not currently provide resources for the transgender, genderqueer or gender-neutral communities.
“As a co-ed institution, Fordham doesn’t have the same issues with admissions that women’s colleges do, although, very often, paperwork does ignore the possibility for identities outside of ‘male’ and ‘female,’” explains McNamara.
McNamara voices the concerns that many students have about dorm policies and bathrooms that fail to reflect an understanding of the difficulties that transgender, genderqueer or gender-neutral people face. McNamara provides her own solutions to these problems by saying, “It would be awesome to see trans-sensitivity and pronoun training for those who work at Fordham, as well as options for gender-neutral housing and the designation of gender-neutral bathrooms.”
Ultimately, the transgender movement is representative of the widespread issue of gender expression, identity and inequality. As a society that places far too much emphasis on labeling, we cannot seem to accept when people deviate from what is considered as the ‘norm.’
Schools like Mount Holyoke are calling into question the very foundation of what it means to be a woman. As Huang states, “I believe womanhood, and what it means to be a woman, takes on so many different forms and should not be regulated into a singular, heteronormative ideal. When we define woman as solely as those born as such, we essentially shun the identities and experiences of so many people.”
We need to stop associating people with the labels we place on them, and instead get to know the person behind them.