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Mills makes steps to become more gender inclusive, students feel more can be done

Women's colleges formerly excepted transgender students based solely on a case-by-case basis; today, several women's colleges have begun to consider all Trans* applicants.
Women’s colleges formerly excepted transgender students based solely on a case-by-case basis; today, several women’s colleges have begun to consider all Trans* applicants.

Last year Mills College became the first women’s college in the United States to change its admissions policy regarding gender identification, allowing the admission of all people who identify as female, regardless of their legally assigned gender. A year later, some students find the College still has more work to do in order to fulfill the full promise that decision suggests.

Historically, women’s colleges have only allowed gender fluid people to be admitted on a case-by-case basis.  Since Mills changed its policy in 2014, Mount Holyoke, Scripps, Simmons and Bryn Mawr have also amended their policies to accept applications from persons who identify as female.  Even though things are changing, there are still issues to be solved. 

Junior Erin Armstrong and senior Skylar Crownover have both expressed their concerns about the policy and have suggestions going forward.

“Mills does not believe in the validity of gender identities outside of the gender binary, and that people who identify outside of the binary should be classified based on their sex assigned at birth,” Armstrong said in an email.

A report put out by the Gender Identity and Expression Sub-Committee of the Diversity and Social Justice Committee in April 2013, advised that the College “should make it clear to prospective students that Mills considers all applicants who self-identify as female for admissions . . . by taking into account their lived experience.”

A year later, in 2014, Mills modified its official policy to consider applicants who do not fit into the gender binary as long as they were assigned to the female sex at birth.

It is with this piece of the policy that Armstrong finds fault.

“Imagine two people, one is assigned male at birth and the other female. Neither of them feel comfortable in their sex assigned at birth, and identify somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum,” Armstrong said.  “At this point, these two people would have the same gender identity, use the same pronouns, and belong to the same community. Now imagine that both of these people apply to Mills College. Based on the current policy the one who was assigned female at birth would be admitted, while the one assigned male would not.”

Crownover, the current ASMC president, sees the policy change as the first step.

“This policy is just one piece in a process that has been ongoing as historically women’s colleges explore what their purpose and identity is today,” Crownover said in an email.

Crownover sees the big picture of how the college should go forward.

“The admissions policy is a move to create more transparent access and inclusion for trans and gender-fluid students, and now we need to continue to educate ourselves as a community to be an inclusive community and provide services that let students know they are a valued member of the Mills community, and to help them persist and complete their degrees,” Crownover said.

Both Crownover and Armstrong feel that the new policy still has issues that need to be worked out for it to be truly inclusive of those who don’t identify on one side of the gender binary. 

“The admissions policy, progressive as it is, is still supportive of the gender binary, lumping non-binary gender identities in with their sex assigned at birth. Gender neutral restrooms are scarce and hard to find,” said Armstrong.  “Use of the Common App system forces students to choose between ‘male’ or ‘female’, and blocks anyone who selects male from applying to Mills. And these are just a few of the issues having to do with inclusion of diverse gender identities, and does little to address disparities faced by students of color, students with disabilities, etc.”

Despite their misgivings about the policy, both Crownover and Armstrong said that their experiences since coming to Mills have been overwhelmingly positive.

“The student community . . . has been more supportive than I could have hoped for,” Armstrong said. “Sure, people have made mistakes, but so far they’ve always been willing to learn from them. And for me, it’s all about finding those teachable moments.”