Scripps vs Smith: women's colleges and trans* rights

By Katherine Goree ‘16Staff Writer

Calliope Wong, a transgender high school senior who was born male but who has identified as female for several years, attempted to apply to Smith College, a prestigious women’s college in Northampton, Mass., last fall. Smith’s admissions policy is that the school will only consider admitting applicants if all components of their application and supporting documents describe them as female.

Smith, which is generally considered to be socially progressive, refused to consider Wong’s application because her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form designated her as a male. Her home state, Connecticut, mandates that a transgender individual undergo sex-reassignment surgery in order to legally change legal status on a birth certificate.

Soon after Smith rejected her, Wong started a Tumblr blog, calliowong.tumblr.com, to share her experience and help other trans* high schoolers receive the consideration from Smith that she did not receive. Word of Smith’s refusal to consider Wong’s application has caused backlash from the Smith’s students and alums. They have shown their support for trans* applicants across social media sites.

This incident is also an example of financial discrimination against trans* applicants. Had she not needed financial aid, Smith would not have seen her FAFSA, and would thus not have known that Wong was born male. Furthermore, it is often necessary to hire an attorney to change the sex on the birth certificate, making the legal process an expensive and time-consuming one.

Trans* applicants should receive fair consideration for admission, regardless of what state they are from. Had Wong been from one of a handful of other states, she could have changed her birth certificate without surgery, and still applied for FAFSA without Smith knowing of her sex at birth. The fact that Smith would have considered Wong’s application without knowing about her identity as a trans* individual, had she been from another state, indicates that the college indirectly discriminates against applicants based on their geographic backgrounds.

Single-sex schools such as Smith have expressed concern that admitting trans* applicants would put them at a risk of losing federal funding under Title IX. However, the law is not applicable to private institutions. Since all single-sex colleges in the U.S. are private, concern about Title IX funding is an invalid excuse for not considering any applicant. If it were to admit someone who is legally of the opposite sex, a private single-sex college would not lose any federal funding.

So where does Scripps fit into this debate? Scripps’s admissions policy is to admit any qualified applicant who self-identifies as female on the Common App. This allows the applicants, not anyone else, to decide whether they identify as women.

It is comforting to know that, had Wong applied to Scripps, her application would have received the consideration it deserved. Admitting trans* students is consistent with Scripps’s values. Our school aims to break social barriers and refuse to let gender roles be an obstacle for opportunity. Denying a qualified trans* applicant the opportunity to study at Scripps would be hypocritical of our college.