In a stunning example of "we say we're progressive, but then we do this," Smith College has rejected a female applicant because in one box on one financial aid form, the applicant is listed as male. It is a decision that is as discriminatory as it is culturally inconsistent with Smith's record on both gender and LGBT issues.
Let's be clear from the start: It is none of your business how long Calliope Wong has identified as female. It is none of your business how she presents her gender. All that matters is that Calliope Wong applied to this women's college identifying as a woman, and her application was rejected. And the application wasn't just rejected but returned!
According to Wong's Tumblr blog, the merits of her application did not even come into play; the application was returned with the $60 application fee and an explanation that "Smith is a women's college, which means undergraduate applicants need to be female at the time of admission."
Never mind that Smith College allows and supports female-to-male transitions while individuals are enrolled as students at the college. This support only comes if every form lists you as female at the time of your admission.
Never mind that the Princeton Review has ranked Smith College as the 11th most LGBT-friendly college or university in the country. This distinction only applies to a college where there is no paper trail of a male assignment of their student population at the time of the student's admission.
Never mind that Smith College boasts one of the most amazing women and gender studies programs in the country. This program may only be accessed by students who are as administratively female on their application as they may identify internally.
And never mind that Smith College boasts an incredible roster of stereotype-defying alumni like Betty Freidan, Tammy Baldwin and Gloria Steinem. These women apparently had every gender box checked off "correctly," so their admission to Smith was never in question.
Make no mistake: This decision is about more than Smith College and Calliope Wong. Smith's ill-conceived action sends a message to all our youth that there is an acceptable and valid time to assert your gender identity, and that moment is after you are accepted to college and not a minute before. At a time when colleges and universities need to be doing so much more to both support trans youth and create change that makes our educational institutions safer for all students, Smith College is broadcasting a statement that a box on a form can trump an individual's own expression. This is as antiquated, arbitrary and damaging as a sign on a single-use bathroom, and we in higher education must hold ourselves to a higher standard.
My hope is that Smith College hears the voices of their students, who have quickly mobilized their outrage and disagreement in the form of a petition demanding that this decision be reconsidered.
Until then, Smith College, please know that you're making the rest of us look bad, and that you, of all colleges, should know better.