Sunday, March 31, 2013

Smith College's Trans Hypocrisy
Transteen Calliope Wong being rejected for admission twice by the prestigious all women's* school Smith College located in Northampton, MA has blown up and caused conversation all over the Net.  It wasn't grades or her SAT scores that caused the collegiate application rejections for this high school senior, it was her trans feminine status. 

Smith's admissions office told Wong the FAFSA designation makes her ineligible based on Smith's policy that applications and supporting papers consistently reflect that the student is female.

Wong's paperwork to Smith, including transcripts and references, identifies her as female.  But the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form from the U.S. Department of Education marks her as male.   The state of Connecticut will not allow her to change the gender code on her birth certificate unless she has GRS, and she can't  change the gender code on the FAFSA form until her birth certificate is changed. 

Can you say Catch 22 boys and girls?  As Bet Power wrote in a March 20 Advocate comment thread on this story, "Trans people should not be compelled to undergo sexual reassignment surgery in order to change our gender ID legally to our proper gender! Our bodies are NOT the point. Our MINDS are."  

Needless to say the Whyte Womyn Gone Wyld trans oppressors are jumping up and down about it spouting their usual hateful claptrap.  In order to keep your blood pressure from rising when you read it I won't waste my time or yours linking to their hateosphere to highlight the usual vanillacentirc privileged potpourri of virulent transphobia. 

But the rejection of Wong by the college looks even more hypocritical in light of the fact that Smith College allows transmen to stay on campus if they transition after enrollment.

It's also galling in the fact that Smith has a social justice mission to educate women, but yet continues to deny that trans women are part of that mission and bar access to trans women who are qualified to go there.

"No one should have to go through what I went through, Wong told the NewYork Daily News via email. “Schools should be focused on building our next generation of leaders, not discriminating against them."

Smith has admitted only female students since it opened its doors in 1875 due to the lack of higher education opportunities for women.  Wong, elements of the trans community and our allies believe Smith seized on the FAFSA code as their excuse to deny Wong admission. 

Calliope published an email exchange on her Tumblr with Jon O’Bergh, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of the US Department of Education, which appears to bolster her's and the trans community's perception of events and challenges Smith's decision.  It stated that “The FAFSA sex reported is only used for Selective Service purposes. Neither FAFSA nor the Department of Education cross-checks sex information with Social Security,”.

“Smith College could choose to accept me or at least process my application, if the administrators wanted to. Smith is not bound by any kind of federal mandate…Thus, Smith College’s decision not to process my application based on my FAFSA sex marker is at Smith’s sole discretion. Their hand was not forced; they chose this. Smith College is fully capable of reviewing my application and making an admissions decision for me based on my credentials. Just—it’s so simple, really. This is obvious discrimination on Smith’s part.

Of course Smith says otherwise.   Laurie Fenlason, Smith's vice president for public affairs, said the school does not comment on the status or admissibility of individual applicants. But she added, "Every application to Smith is treated on a case-by-case basis, and application materials must reflect female identity."

Fenlason is claiming the school has legal concerns over changing its admissions policies and concerned they could lose federal funding under Title IX, a law that bans sexual discrimination in education but exempts single-sex institutions.

"Title IX is an important factor in our consideration but not the only one," she said. "Smith is focusing on the broader policy challenge of how to be inclusive and supportive of transgender students while being faithful to the mission of a women's college."

Yeah Smith, we get the point that applicants to Smith need to be female bodied and presenting as female.  That's not in dispute.  But for Smith to seize on the FAFSA form as your reason for twice denying Calliope Wong's application makes the school look hypocritical and shady not to mention transphobic.   It's also morally repugnant that Smith appears to be using the groundbreaking Title IX law as your excuse to exclude qualified transwomen admittance into the school.

Smith alums don't like it and neither do we trans women and our allies.  In addition to a supportive photo project that has popped up, a Facebook group has been created called Trans Women Belong At Smith College for supportive alums, trans people and allies who support the admission of trans women on campus.  .  

This issue isn't going away.  Trans people are transitioning as early as ages 5 and 6.   Those trans kids will grow up to become trans teens who one day will matriculate on someone's college campus.  Some of those trans teens may be trans feminine students who could be prospective students wishing to attend your campus one day.

Calliope, transwomen and our allies are determined to continue fighting to ensure those transkids if they have the grades and wish to do so when it's time to select a college have that option to attend a college such as Smith..

So Smith College you have a choice.  Will you willingly work on changing your admissions policies so they aren't blatantly discriminatory to trans feminine students?  Or will you have to create them in the wake of losing a trans discrimination lawsuit?

It's your call.    

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