Admissions needs to acknowledge and respect transgender students


Three years ago, I sat in the amphitheater during my first convocation and listened to then-President Lynn Pasquerella announce that transgender students would be welcomed into Mount Holyoke. The admissions policy was updated to accept all students who are women and/or transgender people, a victory that was celebrated widely by the Mount Holyoke student body. Three years later, the Office of Admission is still resistant to recruiting and welcoming transgender students into the Mount Holyoke community. 

On Monday I attended the BOOM session hosted by Admissions to discuss diversity and inclusion in the MHC recruiting process. The work the Diversity Outreach Fellows do to reach out to domestic students of color is incredibly important, and I want to thank them for preparing to share that work with us. However, many of the students in attendance at this session showed up with questions and concerns regarding the office's recruitment of prospective transgender students. As students voiced legitimate concerns about the lack of trans representation, some Admissions staff became defensive rather than receptive to student criticism. I have been working in Admissions as a tour guide for nearly two years now, and this is the latest of many conversations about trans inclusion that have turned tense and uncomfortable. Given how long these conversations have been going on without any tangible resolution, it's time for Admissions to listen to the voices calling for fairer treatment of prospective trans students and be the kind of changemakers they so widely market. 

One Admissions staff member spoke over me when I tried to raise another issue that I would like to share here, as that opportunity was taken away from me in a setting that was supposed to be focused on listening to the experiences of marginalized student groups. When asked what trans-focused community based organizations Admissions reaches out to, a staff member did not have an answer, but asked audience members to share a list if they had one. It is wrong for Admissions to exploit the free labor of trans students without hiring one as a DOF, especially when someone else is getting paid for the work being outsourced. The office needs to add a new trans-focused DOF position to design recruitment efforts and help structure office-wide support for trans prospective students.

Other necessary changes in the office are office-wide staff training about how to talk about being a women's college where not all of our students are women. Some tour guides have carefully rehearsed and researched scripts on how to talk about gender at MHC in a way that authentically reflects this community; others have never been pushed to mention it. I've heard an Admissions staff member refer to a room full of students visiting for Focus on Diversity day as "ladies" and "daughters." Admissions need to be open and honest about the gender diversity on this campus if it wants to market Mount Holyoke as "diverse," and that needs to start with a conversation on what is and isn't appropriate and necessary to say. Finally, for years student staff have been asking for a line in prospective student response cards asking for pronouns. On Monday an Admissions staff member reported that there was "internal pushback" regarding this idea, which points back to the administrative side of Admissions as the fundamental source of the problem. 

It's time for Admissions to realize that students are angry, and that the employees who have been brave enough to speak up at these kinds of meetings are not alone. The office must take action now to actively seek out trans students and market Mount Holyoke for what it is: a women's college where not all of our students are women.

I anticipate this piece will spark some backlash, as any conversation about what it means for trans men and nonbinary people to come to a women's college inevitably will. I encourage you to think beyond the word "women" for a second and consider what an environment such as Mount Holyoke was designed to promote. What does it actually mean to be a women's college? Is it to educate members of a static identity group, or empower and uplift the fluid and fluctuating group of students who are marginalized on the basis of their gender identities? To borrow from Marc Lamont Hill's keynote address, it's not enough to just go to a women's college. What kind of women's college do we want to be?  

When I look around, I see that I am part of a community of students who lift each other up, who celebrate each other's victories, and who stand with each other to make the change needed for all of us to succeed. That's what being at a women's college means to me. The necessary inclusion of trans students makes this possible, but some of the Office of Admissions staff members I interacted with on Monday do not care enough to do the work needed to make this reality part of their institutional statement. If we're going to market to prospective students that we are a community of changemakers, Admissions needs to step up and enable that change. Anything less than that is hypocrisy and transphobia.