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Mills reacts to transgender admissions policy

Emily Mibach
Emily Mibach

In May of this year, Mills College announced an admissions policy that officially opened admissions to transgender students—a historical step in the College’s 162-year-life-span as a women’s college.

The new policy states that the College admits self-identified women and students who are assigned to female sex at birth and identify as transgender or gender fluid. Students who have legally changed their sex to male will not be considered for admission; however, students who transition to male after coming to Mills will be allowed to stay until they graduate.

Prior to the creation of the new policy, transgender applicants who self-identified as female were considered on a case-by-case basis. Last year, the Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee — formerly the Transgender Inclusivity Task Force — produced the Report on Inclusion of Transgender and Genderfluid Students: Best Practices Assessment and Recommendations, which was then integrated into the Strategic Plan. One of the sub-committee’s recommendations was to write a clear admissions and retention policy on transgender and gender-fluid students — a goal which has now come to fruition.

At the time the report was created, Professor Julia Oparah, department head of ethnic studies, was the chair of the Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee, which is now chaired by Professor Priya Kandaswammy, associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

“Mills’ admission policy on transgender and gender fluid students is an exciting example of what can happen when students, faculty and staff come together to work for social justice,” Oparah said in an email.

The policy has been in the works for quite a while.

“In Spring 2013,” Oparah said, “renowned gender activist Pauline Park issued a challenge to the Mills community when she asked us whether Mills wanted to support gender justice or to push against the rising tide of (trans)gender rights activism.”

The issue of transgender inclusion exploded in the media when transgender teen Calliope Wong was rejected from Smith College because her documents listed her as male. This launched a college-wide protest at Smith. Many believe that Mills’ transgender admissions policy will become a model for other single-sex institutions that have yet to establish such practices. Recently, Mount Holyoke College also created a policy admitting transgender students.

“I am proud that Mills will be recorded in the history books as the first women’s college in the U.S. to adopt a written policy that is welcoming and affirming to our transgender and gender fluid students,” Oparah said.

Recently, Kay, the mother of a six-year-old transgender daughter, published a letter to Mills College on her blog, Trains and Dresses. In the letter, Kay thanked the College for creating more opportunities for her child in the future.

“Thank you for opening your doors to this often marginalized population, a population that is equally deserving of a college education as cisgender women…” Kay wrote. “Clearly, I have no idea if she will desire to attend a same-gender college or not, but the fact that it was not an option on the table has saddened me much more than anyone knows.”

Oparah maintains that Mills’ work to support gender justice is far from done.

“There is still much to be done to make our campus a supportive and safe environment for all our students, but this is an important step in the right direction,” she said.

Sophomores Eileen Sochi and Sarah O’Neal also believe that while the policy is a positive step, the College needs to take more action to become inclusive.

“I hope that instead of just saying that it’s okay for them to come here, they actually actively recruit transgender students,” said Sochi.

“And make it financially accessible, not just for white trans women,” O’Neal added.

Eloise Stiglitz, vice president of student life and dean of students, notes that the policy is not only significant for Mills as a women’s college, but also an achievement in overall higher education.

“The fact that Mills was the first women’s college to create a policy to admit transgendered/gender fluid students is remarkable,” Stiglitz said in an email. “Coed schools have been working on creating other policies (e.g. housing, athletics) but the admissions policy was groundbreaking. I’m proud to be part of Mills in taking this step.”

Go online to view The Campanil’s Storify on the transgender admissions policy.