Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Transphobia our "Womens" College

Slafennog's picture

Last year at Plenary there was a large movement to create a more inclusive space for those who whose gender was not represented in the constitution at Bryn Mawr. This was done by removing the words, women and freshwomen, and replacing them with student and first years. Also we added to the Mistress positions the titles of Mister and Mistex. The resolution passed, and Bryn Mawr made the changes, and people seemed to move on from it. But the last semester the debate seemed to move to focus on the fact that there are many women who are not allowed to even apply to come to Bryn Mawr. Specifically Transwomen.  As it stands “Bryn Mawr's admissions policy as a women's college is to admit female students only. If it is not clear that an applicant to the College is female, we would approach the situation on an individual basis to gain a better understanding of the student's circumstances. However, our policy to admit female students only would not change.” (Bryn Mawr Website) And it is not just Bryn Mawr that has been dealing with this issue, but all of the women’s colleges have been addressing the issue in their own way. Mount Holyoke was the first seven sister’s college to accept a transwomen into their school (they did in 2014) and Mills College uses a policy of self-gender identifying on their applications. Smith College also has accepted transwomen as of the spring of last year.  How and why would we argue against this, as it is fact that Bryn Mawr (along with many other women’s colleges) were opened in order to educate those who would not otherwise get the education. One may argue that males will simply start self-identifying as women in order to attend a women’ s college. This argument I find to be transphobic and will only cause harm to those women who wish to apply, as well as other trans and non-binary individuals who may already be attending the college, because it could be seen that the school itself does not believe that trans people are being honest about being who they truly are. Another argument against the enrolment of transgender women has been that if they admit students that aren’t legally female then the schools run the risk of losing Title IX funding, because if you have student of both genders there are laws in place that you must not discriminate funding (for sports teams, and clubs, and resources) on the basis of gender (with the exception of this rule being private-single sex schools, don’t have to put funding equally towards both because they don’t have both). This is a bit more problematic, but if the schools continue to focus on this as a problem they are really missing the bigger picture here. Less and less women are applying to women’s college for a variety of reasons, so they should be in no place to be telling any woman’s that she is not welcome to apply. And the fact that some women’s college are dragging their feet (I am looking at you Bryn Mawr) just goes against the progressive inclusive nature that we are attempting to create for all the students that want to, and do go here.  Instead of focusing on deciding who we are going to let be a women, why don’t we use our time and energy to fight this transphobic language, and actions both within our own school, and the title IX laws. Making them more safe,  inclusive, and there for better for all. 


jccohen's picture


I'm struck by what you're saying about Bryn Mawr's apparent distrust of people's self-identification in terms of gender:  "it could be seen that the school itself does not believe that trans people are being honest about being who they truly are."  This would indeed suggest a kind of limited perspective (on the part of the college) on gender, identity, and people's ability to describe themselves; and as you say, this seems to be in conflict with the mission of this college (and other women's institutions).  The issue of trust - and of who gets to name people's identities - seems to be a core and very compelling one here...

Slafennog's picture

February 9, 2015

To All Members of the Bryn Mawr Community:

During its meetings this past weekend, the College’s Board of Trustees discussed and approved a recommendation from a Board working group that was created at the September 2014 Board meeting to examine the mission of the College with respect to transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming applicants.

The five trustee members of the working group read extensively through materials representing diverse perspectives, including all items suggested by community members; reviewed comments from individual community members, alumnae/i, and campus gatherings; requested and attended meetings with students, faculty, staff, and the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions; and consulted legal experts. Over the course of their many meetings, the working group examined the mission of the College as defined from its founding to the present and discussed the gender identities and expressions that are encompassed in that mission.

The working group concluded unanimously that the mission of the College at the undergraduate level is to educate women to be future leaders. In its recommendation to the Board, the working group noted that Bryn Mawr’s identity as a women’s college is fundamental to its distinctive environment, one in which women are central, faculty assume and expect excellence from women, and women assume positions of leadership. The working group also recommended that the College use language that affirms our institutional identity as a women’s college (e.g. use of gendered language) while respecting the diversity of individual identities in the community.

The working group also proposed that the College more clearly articulate the eligible undergraduate applicant pool in the context of its mission. The Board approved the working group’s recommendation that in addition to those applicants who were assigned female at birth, the applicant pool will be inclusive of transwomen and of intersex individuals who live and identify as women at the time of application. Intersex individuals who do not identify as male are also eligible for admission. Those assigned female at birth who have taken medical or legal steps to identify as male are not eligible for admission.

In cases where an applicant’s gender identity is not clearly reflected in their application materials, the College may request additional information, which could include verifiable legal or medical steps taken to affirm gender. In evaluating such additional information, the College fully intends to be as flexible and inclusive as possible. 

Within the context of our mission as a women’s college, all Bryn Mawr students will continue to be valued and supported members of the community, no matter how their gender identity shifts during their time at the College. 

Policies and practices to implement the College's mission will now be carried out by faculty and administrative staff. 

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the entire Bryn Mawr community, I wish to express my gratitude to the members of the working group who labored tirelessly to develop this recommendation. 

Sincerely yours,

Arlene Joy Gibson '65
Chair, Board of Trustees