Earlier in August, I was excited to learn about Tina Fey executive producing a new television project. When I found out the currently untitled show takes place at a women's college that starts to accept men for the first time in its history, I was even more intrigued. Not just because Tina Fey's hilariously talented, or because I've been looking for something too fill the void in my life since the series finale of 30 Rock aired.
Fey's combination of snark, common sense, and general intelligence enhance the possibility that this new show might actually tackle some relevant issues and current events regarding women's colleges that are otherwise ignored and overlooked.
Take transgender students, for instance.
In recent years there's been a growing number of students identifying as transgender on college campuses, requiring these institutions to reexamine their policies and accommodations. Some schools like Brown University even expanded their student health care plans and now cover up to $50,000 in treatments like sex-reassignment surgery and hormone therapies.
The increasing presence of transgender students isn't just exclusive to co-ed universities -- it's also a reality at women's colleges.
A number of schools have started to offer gender-neutral housing and bathrooms on campus, but these few solutions don't address the greater conflict of redefining what it means to be a "women's college" in the wake of transgender acceptance.
Calliope Wong opened up this dialogue on a national level last March when the trans student was rejected from Smith College because her FAFSA identified her as male. Wong worked alongside GLAAD, Change.org, and other Smith students to encourage the college to adopt an inclusive admissions policy.
"Smith College is fully capable of reviewing my application and making an admissions decision for me based on my credentials. Just -- it's so simple, really," she wrote. "This is obvious discrimination on Smith's part."
To say that transgender characters are not only underrepresented but also misrepresented in mainstream media is an understatement, especially when it comes to television shows about high school and college. These complex characters and storylines are imperative voices and perspectives that are missing from national dialogues in higher ed spaces, and they're missing from pop culture at large.
Believe it or not, Tina Fey could help change that. Even though she's not writing the series herself, Fey has a unique opportunity to shed light on some of the issues transgender students grapple with at women's colleges.
From housing to bathrooms and even the admissions process itself, trans students have to navigate college differently than other students who fit into traditional gender binaries. These struggles, manifested in both small and larger ways, disrupt students' college experiences and, instead, shift their energy toward battling status quos filled with inequalities.
Single-sex institutions of higher learning generally lack specific and concrete policies when it comes to accommodating transgender students. Everything is often dealt with on a "case by case basis," which prevents trans students from having a sense of protection or precedented histories that give insight into possible outcomes of a given situation.
Whether it's by writing a transgender character into the script or including a plotline that focuses on a problem faced by trans students based on real life events, Fey has an opportunity to use her power and influence over the upcoming show to educate major audiences about these realities.
Maybe this comedy veteran's top-notch sarcasm and sense of humor can help raise awareness about more serious issues and inherently advocate for social change, or maybe it won't work at all, but there's only one way to find out.
Give it a shot, Tina Fey.
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