Smith students challenge college on transgender issues
NORTHAMPTON — Smith College students are planning a rally this week to advocate for change in the way the college deals with transgender applicants.
Smith sophomore Sarah Fraas, 20, said organizers have been trying to get the college to adopt policies that would be more inclusive to transgender people who apply for admission to the women’s college.
Fraas, one of the organizers of the rally, said students will protest outside the admissions office at 7 College Lane from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday. She said about 100 people have indicated they will attend the rally.
Smith now requires that to be considered for admission all applicants must have consistent female pronouns on transcripts, the common application, letters of recommendation and other supporting materials. Student protesters are challenging the policy, which they say is exclusionary.
Fraas said the required paperwork is not only difficult but unrealistic for a transgender woman who is 17 or 18 to meet. They contend that full support of teachers and school districts to change the gender pronoun on their documents is a privilege most young trans women do not have.
A trans woman is a person who was assigned male at birth but who lives as a woman or identifies as female.
“So what they are doing is defining womanhood by how supportive their environment is, and that’s not what womanhood is about,” said Fraas.
According to the Smith website, the college does not decide who is a woman, but relies on applicants to provide the information that abides by its status as a women’s college. The school does not ask for a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, nor any state-issued official document to confirm the gender of applicants.
“At Smith, in both admission and campus life, we are focusing on the broad policy challenge of how to be supportive of students who are exploring gender identity, while at the same time remaining deeply committed to our mission as a women’s college,” Audrey Smith, vice president of enrollment, wrote in a letter sent to Fraas.
One student group is proposing what it refers to as a “gender supplement” solution, in which for cases where there are non-female pronouns or ambiguity about how an applicant identifies, Smith admissions may request supplemental documentation from the applicant to confirm that the applicant has a female gender identity.
This documentation could include letters of support or explanation from medical or mental health providers, school staff, social workers, clergy, family or employers.
According to Smith’s website, the college changed its policy to allow inconsistent pronoun usage on disability and financial aid forms. But protesters want such changes to apply to application materials as well.
Fraas said she organized the rally with the help of over 20 student volunteers.