By Jocelyn Gardner '16
Mental Health Columnist
As SAS President Alex Frumkin noted at the beginning of last Tuesday’s BeHeard forum, the discussion about the trans-student admissions policy has existed at Scripps for quite some time. In light of the recent admissions policies at women’s colleges, namely Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. and Mills College in Oakland, Calif., the Scripps community has been weighing in on the possibility of adopting a similar policy to one of those colleges. During the forum, students gave reasons to support an inclusive admission policy, examined counterarguments, and asked questions about the purpose of a women’s college and the meaning of being a woman.
The Student Union was a full house, with students from across the 5Cs and Dean of Students/Vice President of Student Affairs Charlotte Johnson in attendance. The forum began with a clarification of policies. While Scripps does not have a formal policy, Mount Holyoke welcomes all applicants except cisgender males, and Mills’ website states, “admits self-identified women and people assigned female at birth who do not fit into the gender binary at the undergraduate level.” As one student pointed out, other institutions made statements on the matter as well.
Throughout the duration of the forum, students referred to admission policies of gender restriction as oppressive. “… One of the ways to make people feel comfortable [at Scripps] is to not continue to enforce reproductive oppression, which is what this matter is,” Bekah Manikowski ’16 said. “It’s oppression at the heart: not admitting gender minorities to a school that is supposed to protect the reproductive justice of all human beings, particularly its students.” Other points included the invalidation of gender identity and the idea that Scripps must move forward as other colleges change their policies to avoid the image of an oppressive institution, at the very least.
The discussion also brought about a need to explain the meaning of terms including “woman,” “women’s college,” and “oppression,” more definitively. While trying to define these terms is not something that can be achieved in an hour, students brought new dimensions to consider both in terms of the admissions policy and in students’ lives in general.
“I don’t think it’s our job or our place to start policing what a woman is,” Nicole Hourie ’17 said. “And if that’s what Scripps does, then I don’t think it’s as safe a place as we thought it was.”
In terms of the purpose of a women’s college, students expressed views that a women’s college is for those experiencing gender-based oppression, and that the point of such an institution is not to exclude people but rather to serve as a safe haven of empowerment through the education, atmosphere and opportunities.
On the other side, a few ideas contrary to inclusive admission came up in the forum. Not all alumnae feel that Scripps should broaden the policy, and there are still some misconceptions concerning gender that need to be addressed. The possibility that cisgender men might be able to pretend to identify with a different gender to take advantage of the resources of a women’s college, but students believed that this case would be unlikely. People are also concerned that the traditions and status of Scripps would be compromised.
Another point supporting a new policy is the fact that Scripps has already had transgender students. Although they cannot apply to Scripps, students who already attend Scripps can and have transitioned, which can be seen as an inconsistency in that it should not matter whether students realize their identities before or after coming to Scripps. Refusing the opportunity to create an inclusive policy on the grounds that only certain groups of people can be seen as women, students argued, would be sending a message to the current students that the groups not included do not belong — the policy might as well expel students who discover this identity during their time at Scripps.
In the end, it is up to the Board of Trustees to decide the outcome of this issue. When this will happen is not clear, though they may discuss the issue with SAS at a meeting in October. In the meantime, it is important that they hear the opinions of the students and alumnae on this matter. A way that students can continue these conversations is to speak to SAS representatives. This past week’s BeHeard forum served as a platform for invested and passionate students to critically examine a topic at the center of discussion in colleges across the country.