OPINION: ‘The women’s college’ isn’t just for women anymore

A white building with the sign "Scripps College" has a large arched doorway.
(Caelyn Smith • The Student Life)

 

As the only women’s college at the 5Cs, it’s time for Scripps College to reassess its role in regards to transgender and nonbinary applicants. 

Scripps’ current application policy is confusing, arbitrary and was clearly written without an understanding of trans and nonbinary identities. The Scripps admissions website says that the college will consider “all applicants who indicate their legal sex as female submitted through the Common Application, in addition to applicants who self-identity as women.” This means that Scripps considers applications from cisgender women and trans women, as well as trans men and nonbinary people whose legal sex is female.

But there may not exist one all-encompassing legally designated sex for each person. A person’s sex/gender is indicated on many different legal documents, including driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate, and they are not required to match each other. A trans person may have different, conflicting legal sexes because editing each document can vary drastically in process and difficulty. In fact, it is impossible for someone whose sex was assigned male at birth to change their legal sex with the U.S. Department of Defense after being registered for the Selective Service

Scripps’ application policy also fails to account for the wide range of gender identities that exist outside of the binary of woman or man. This lack of consideration results in a policy that is ambiguous and arbitrarily exclusionary. A non-binary person whose legal sex is female is presumably eligible, while a nonbinary person whose legal sex is male is presumably not, despite the fact that these two hypothetical people might share the same gender identity.

I say “presumably” because the policy is so unclear. Would Scripps consider an applicant whose legal sex is male if they only sometimes identify as female? What about if they identify as female, among other things? If they don’t identify with any gender labels? I emailed the Scripps admission department to clarify their stance on nonbinary applicants, and they declined to answer my questions, instead directing me back to the woefully inadequate paragraph on the admission website. 

The reason that Scripps’ application policy makes no sense is a direct result of the conditions under which it was originally written. In 2013, prominent women’s institution Smith College rejected the application of a transgender student named Calliope Wong. Smith’s dean of admissions originally told Wong that her application would be considered as long as her identification documents indicated that she was female, which they did. However, Smith rejected Wong on the basis that she was not female, since her Free Application for Federal Student Aid identified her as male because she was registered for the Selective Service. The national backlash over this rejection caused every women’s college in the country to scramble to outline a clear, consistent policy in regards to the applications of trans women to avoid a scandal of their own. 

To understand how the Scripps policy was written, I spoke to Nancy Williams, associate professor of chemistry at the Keck Science Department, who was aware of and consulted on the process. Williams told me that in 2014, the Scripps Board of Trustees set out to formally define who was considered a woman in order to be inclusive of trans women in the application process. They originally planned to draft the policy over an entire academic year, culminating with a vote at the end of the term. 

But while the Board was debating who should be considered a woman, students started questioning whether or not Scripps should even continue to be exclusively a women’s college, with many advocating for the inclusion of trans men and nonbinary students in the Board’s new policy as well. At the same time, a vocal group of transphobic Scripps alumni fought against the acceptance of any trans students at Scripps. 

Williams speculates that the Board “was stuck between a rock and a hard place,” worried that letting this conflict play out would cost the college alumni funding and prevent the passage of any new policy. Abandoning the original year-long plan, the Board quickly drafted the current  policy and voted to approve it in a private board meeting that fall. Williams theorizes that this accelerated timeline reflected a desire to get a policy passed, which was at least somewhat inclusive of trans women before opposition from alumni could grow even louder. However, this rushed policy was drafted without the direct involvement or feedback of trans and nonbinary people, leaving us with the incomplete policy that Scripps has used ever since. 

Eight years after the policy change, I believe that Scripps is beyond overdue to reopen the conversation around trans and nonbinary students. Scripps should adopt an application policy like that of Mount Holyoke: “As a women’s college that is gender diverse, we welcome applications from female, trans and non-binary students.” This policy is simple, clear, and inclusive; it sets a precedent of valuing queer diversity on campus. 

Scripps’ student body and administration need to consider whether Scripps is exclusively a women’s college or a historically women’s college that is truly inclusive of those outside the gender binary; and more broadly what the role of our institution in the 21st century should be. It is essential that the board of trustees update the admissions policy carefully, transparently and with input from people with real knowledge of queer issues.

It is unacceptable to allow a handful of rich donors and influential alumni to hijack the process with regressive, transphobic demands for a second time. Scripps students deserve to be at the forefront of this discussion, especially trans and nonbinary students who have historically been treated as a liability or an afterthought by the admissions process. Most importantly, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the Scripps community respects and uplifts its trans and nonbinary members, in the admissions process and beyond.  

Nicole Smith SC ’25 is from Boulder, Colorado. They enjoy hiking, poetry, and the Oxford comma.

 

 

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