“When women become men at Wellesley,” a recent article in the New York Times (NYT), talked about the issues faced by transgender men at women’s colleges and the issues faced by women’s colleges with men among their student bodies. Personally, my stance on the college side of this issue is pretty simple: just chill.
Really, just chill out. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Maybe sit down for a minute. While you’re enjoying this very zen time-out, think about what the real impacts of including some men in your student body are likely to be. The men applying to and attending women’s colleges are doing so with full knowledge of the universities’ values; hence, they attend having already accepted their underlying feminism.
In addition to that, the article noted that women tend to outperform men at all colleges, coed and women’s. Here, for example, the Student Executive Council Co-Chairs, the majority of the CCEL Executive Council, and the Observer’s Executive Editor and Publisher are all women, along with many other female leaders on campus. Clearly the disclusion of men is not necessary for women to succeed. If women can excel in an environment that is more or less 50 percent male, then I fail to see how fewer than a couple dozen men in a whole college of women would have any appreciable impact on the leadership opportunities available to those women.
The article focused primarily on Timothy Boatwright, a trans man who caused controversy by running for a student government position. What it didn’t focus on (and why would it?) were all of the women no doubt filling the other positions. Allowing trans men to seek the same opportunities at women’s colleges that women do just means inserting a little more diversity; it is not significantly decreasing women’s opportunities.
Another issue about which the universities in question should really just chill out is gender itself. So far in this article, I’ve been guilty of it, too: simplifying gender to a multiple choice question when it’s actually a several hundred page thesis with multimedia appendices and centuries worth of citations. Even if these colleges decided that men were simply unacceptable as students, it wouldn’t be as simple as drawing a line between the female and male student bodies. There are genderqueer and otherwise non-binary students, too, who would also need to be considered. That raises the question of what the universities in question would consider to be truly female and what is the “other.” That then takes the problematic next step of putting the whole question of gender identity into the hands of an admissions committee. In any given question of gender, there is only one true authority: the person whose gender is in question. Thus, the people most qualified to determine whether they should be attending a women’s college are the potential students themselves. Let’s just let them decide.
Furthermore, even if the colleges were to ignore my excellent advice in the chilling department and make their guidelines strict in only accepting cisgender, female-identifying students, that in itself causes one heck of a problematic situation. Trans or non-binary students who want to attend can still apply, and they can still attend. Instead of being able to embrace their identities and feel accepted while doing so, though, they would be forced to seek their educations from the depths of the closet. So colleges wouldn’t even be keeping out the non-women; they’d just be forcing them into hiding.
A perfectly valid objection to that last paragraph is that the trans students could just choose to attend a coed university. However, I’d like to bring any such objectors’ attention to this quote from the NYT article: “Like many trans students, [Boatwright] chose a women’s college because it seemed safer physically and psychologically.” As long as that impression exists, trans men are going to choose women’s colleges, whether the colleges let them officially come out or not, so the only reasonable response is to just accept that fact and accept those students for who they are.
As one more reason to chill in regard to this issue, in the modern day the traditional aim of women’s colleges is better achieved by educating trans, non-binary, non-female students than it is in educating solely women. These colleges came about because women were underserved by the more traditional institutions. Now, women are served perfectly fine by a vast majority (if not all) of coeducational schools, and it is people who are not born into a neatly divided gender binary who find themselves marginalized, discriminated against, and generally underserved in society. Hence, by allowing these students in and granting them the educations and diplomas that they’re seeking, these institutions can carry their original raison d’être, not just their gender-based exclusion, into the modern day.
For all of these reasons, and to avoid furthering a controversy that never should have been one to start with, I wish that women’s colleges would write gender out of their admissions and diploma-granting policies. Instead, they should just leave it to the students to determine whether that is the atmosphere they want to learn and grow in. In other words, universities should just chill.
Aquene Kimmel, Opinion Editor and freshman, attended an all-girls high school. It has made some progress, but it could still chill further.