In the New Republic article “Why Women’s Colleges Still Matter in the Age of Trans Activism,” a picture of young Hillary Clinton smiles at the reader. One of Clinton’s famous pictures from her time at Wellesley, it captures her sitting in a room full of books holding a hand to her forehead. As one of Wellesley’s most famous alums, Clinton has become a symbol of the kind of leadership students can learn at a women’s college.
Monica Potts’ article applauds such leadership and warns that accepting trans people to women’s colleges endangers the success of these institutions as incubators of female leaders. The inclusion of trans people in an institution devoted to feminism, Monica Potts argues, will push “women’s champions out of the picture.”
I find Potts’ argument troubling because she argues that women and trans people stand in opposition to each other and face different challenges. There are important distinctions between the struggles that women and trans people face but, more important than these differences is the shared determination to resist gender- based discrimination.
Feminists and trans advocates both have similar goals and would both greatly benefit in a society that does not discriminate based on gender. As an institution that is defender of gender equality, Wellesley should change its admissions policy to accept trans students.
Monica Potts’ article was published on February 2, two weeks before student members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Gender & Wellesley (PACGW) talked to Senate about the committee’s update.
While the committee will not make any decisions on the issue, they have been working since November to analyze what gender means in the 21st century and provide the Board of Trustees with information so that they can make a final decision on our admissions policy.
Aggie Rieger ’16 listed three possible admissions policies that the Trustees could vote on: To continue our policy of only considering applications of people designated female at birth, to change our admissions policy and also consider applications of trans men and women, or to change our admissions policy to consider only applications of people designated female at birth and trans women.
PACGW has faced the formidable challenge of advising the trustees in a decision that cannot satisfy all members of the Wellesley community. Members of the Wellesley community have repeatedly voiced the fear that an alteration to our admissions policy will deprive the Wellesley experience of some of its most valuable attributes.
Like Potts, students and alums have voiced their concern that a masculine presence on campus will take up leadership spaces.
In order to challenge these claims, I want to start by thinking about feminism, a defining component of the Wellesley experience. We all express feminism in very different ways that at the end of the day boil down to a belief in gender equality. Feminism resists patriarchal oppression.
If we think about the relationship between feminism and the trans movement in terms of what each ideology fights for and against, we can argue that both feminists and trans people want gender equality and reject patriarchy.
Yale professor Greta LaFleur writes in a subsequent article for New Republic that feminism and the trans movement are “coextensive struggles working against structural oppression and toward gender liberation.” Like LaFleur, I believe that the ideal society for feminists looks very much like the ideal society for trans people. Wellesley, as a long-standing advocate of gender equality, would gain from considering the applications of trans students.
Trans students on campus would not put Wellesley’s values at risk but rather strengthen them. We would share our beautiful campus with students who are also familiar with the experience of being discriminated on the basis of gender. Over the past couple of years, students on this campus have shown that we deeply care about equality — WAAM-SLAAM II, #BlackLivesMatter and Wellesley 20/20 all rally for greater equality and challenge oppression.
Despite the many events and discussions that the college has held to address the possibility of opening our doors to trans people, I have very rarely engaged in or heard conversations about transgender students at Wellesley. After the discussion that the New York Times article “When Women Become Men at Wellesley” brought up, conversation amongst students that were not actively involved in the issue died down.
There is tension on campus surrounding the issue of trans people as well as fear from those with more conservative views to voice their opinions. It is important to challenge these stigmas and make sure that the issue remains on the table. Admission of trans people is an issue that will affect us all directly, and we need to be comfortable talking about it.
The fear that many have expressed to see Wellesley change is understandable — we all want what is best for the college and for future students. We have the responsibility, however, to respond to the demonstrated interest of trans students coming to Wellesley.
I like to believe that one day there will no longer be a need for feminism or LGBTQ advocacy or protests against racist acts. Talking freely about gender issues and opening our doors to trans students are necessary steps to take towards a more equal campus environment.
Photo Courtesy of U.S. News