Smith College Rejects Transgender Applicant Thanks to Shitty Admissions Policies


Calliope Wong, a student currently winding down her time at Amity Regional Senior High School in Connecticut, believed her application to Smith College (a women’s liberal arts college in Northampton, Mass. that used to be a husband-hunting lodge for wealthy, straight white women and now boasts a queer population upwards of 20 percent of the student body) would get a fair evaluation. Correspondence over the summer with Smith’s Dean of Admission Debra Shaver seemed to imply as much, but on March 10, Wong received an extra shitty rejection letter: her application to Smith wouldn’t be considered because Wong, a male-to-female transsexual girl, wasn’t recognized as female in her home state, and, therefore, still listed as male on her federal financial aid application.

On March 10, Wong posted a picture of her rejection letter on a brand new Tumblr she’d created in an effort to help transwomen like herself get a real chance at applying to Smith. Although the school does have a relatively progressive protocol for including transgender students, according to The Advocate, that protocol only covers students who legally identify as female at the time of admission (or transition after matriculating). In order for Wong to be considered female in Connecticut, however, she’d have to undergo sexual confirmation surgery, which can be a costly and complicated process ( a recent law passed in Argentina aimed at giving trans people easier access to ID cards highlighted the problems inherent with letting legal identity hinge on a costly medical procedure).

The letter from Smith’s Admissions Office (signed by Dean Shaver) merely reiterated the school’s policy:

Smith is a women’s college, which means that undergraduate applicants to Smith must be female at the time of admission.

Wong, using her Tumblr as a way to broadcast the inconsistent and unnecessarily byzantine transgender admittance policy, wrote that she felt “betrayed” by Dean Shaver, whose earlier communication back in August implied that Wong’s application would be considered on its academic merit:

Dean Shaver’s words to me over the summer, when I was still trying to figure out Smith’s transgender-acceptance policies, were that: “It seems to me that if your teachers provide the language you suggest, all your pronouns would be female and therefore consistent with what Smith is expecting.” She spoke of school papers and transcripts consistently reflecting “female” for my application. Nowhere was there mention of FAFSA, a federal financial aid form.

Ah, but the great bureaucratic behemoth at Smith is more creaky and conservative than its progressive student body lets on. According to Sarah Giovanniello, a Yale freshman who’s been covering (and helping with) Wong’s struggle to get into Smith for Yale’s feminist magazine Broad Recognition, Smith’s inclusive attitude towards all gender identities and sexual orientations does not necessarily extend to the administration:

However, the administration is significantly more conservative than the student body and recent alumni. For example, in April 2011, the Director of Admissions refused to let Jake, a Smith student and trans man, host an admitted student overnight at Smith Open Campus. Although Jake proposed that he contact the student ahead of time to make sure she was comfortable staying with him, the administration would not consider his solution. Jake explained that the administration’s decision seemed to be more concerned with how Smith appears to outsiders than with the experiences of enrolled students: “It was insinuated that the real reason I was ‘inappropriate’ was not about a male and a female sharing a room. It was about maintaining Smith’s pristine image as a pearls and sweater sets kind of place…If I were to host the daughter of an alumnae [sic] or a donor, admissions was concerned about potential backlash.” The administration announced a permanent policy barring male-identified students from hosting overnights the following November, and although there was much resistance to this change from the student body, the policy was never successfully challenged.

In the wake of the March 10 letter, Wong has received an outpouring of support from the online community, as well as Smith students. A Facebook group called Sith Q&A has incited a photo project of women posing around campus with signs of support for Wong, and an organizer for the Q&A, a “enderqueer/transguy at Smith,” told the HuffPo that voicing support for Wong is “an attempt to make Smith a space where transwomen can be supported as students and as people—both administratively and by the student body.”

Wong so far has no plans to appeal Smith’s decision on her application, though she insists on her Tumblr that she will continue her effort to improve Smith’s transgender policies.

HuffPo], [The Advocate], [Transwomen@Smith]

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