Admissions Asks Trans* Students to No Longer Host Prospective Students
Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 17:11
A new policy that discourages trans*-masculine identified students from hosting prospective students during overnight visits has prompted considerable debate and reignited discussion about the role of trans* students on campus.
Admissions Director Deb Shaver said the college decided to adopt this policy last spring. Male-identified students will be asked to "opt out" of hosting prospective students in the spirit of the Honor Code.
"When we make hosting arrangements for prospective students, most of whom are 17 and 18 years old, we do so with the understanding that they and their parents have made a serious decision to consider a women's college," said Shaver in an e-mail. "Their expectation is that they will be hosted overnight by a student who identifies as a woman."
Controversy over this issue began last spring, when an openly trans* Gold Key guide was told he would not be allowed to host prospective students overnight, due to his gender identity. Details of this incident were reported in The Sophian, in an editorial by the student himself and letters of support from other students.
At the time, campus organization Transcending Gender formed a Facebook group and released an online petition opposing the decision. The organization's complaint was that since there was no policy prohibiting trans* students from hosting prospective students, and because Gold Key guides are required to host to remain in Gold Key, this was unfair discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
As well as hosting two prospective students each semester, Gold Key guides are required to give one tour a week and attend two special events a semester. Since trans* students are not allowed to host, the new policy will require them to attend four special events every semester. Special events are usually larger tour groups, or alumnae events.
Shaver said the college's decision not to allow male-identified students to host prospective students will now be extended to all students hosting for Admissions, not just Gold Key guides. She emphasized the policy is not intended to devalue trans* students' contributions.
"This practice was not meant to be hurtful or disrespectful to our trans* students," said Shaver. "We value the presence of trans* students and the contributions they make to the Smith community, including participation in Gold Key."
A few weeks ago, administrators briefed the Gold Key Central Board – five students who organize the Gold Key tour guides – on the new hosting policy. However, the new policy has not been announced to the wider Smith community. A non-male identified Gold Key guide did speak before Senate on the issue, but without approval from Central Board, and without having been privy to the details of the new policy.
Students and student organizations have expressed mixed responses to the new policy. Yanil Burgos '13, co-president of Prism, a support organization for queer women of color, said that the situation is complicated, but that she does not necessarily disagree with the policy.
"I doubt co-ed schools would allow female prospective students to be hosted by men, and it makes sense that the same would apply at a women's college," she said in an e-mail. "People who have only been exposed to narrow definitions of sexuality and gender expression may be turned off by having a male-identified host, especially the parents of prospective students."
The discussion of the policy has also included former students. Sebastian Barr '11, a Smith alum who transitioned while enrolled at the college, wrote a letter to Admissions in support of the new policy.
"I think [the policy] is appropriate," Barr said in an e-mail. "Prospective students and their families are not expecting a co-ed housing situation … Trans men are men and I appreciate that the admissions office is treating them as such."
In Barr's experience, Smith was a supportive environment for trans* students, even at the administrative level. "My professors and deans handled my transition very respectfully," he said. "As an alum, it was very easy to change my name on the records and my alum OneCard says "alumnus" instead of "alumna." [Smith College policies] don't discriminate against trans students…They let us stay in housing, they let us hold positions in student government and all other organizations, they let us represent the school in various ways."
Transcending Gender created a Facebook event "Support Trans* Students at Smith College!!" to oppose the new policy. The page demands Admissions "reform prospective student hosting to be more inclusive; require all departments of Smith College as an institution, especially Admissions, to have inclusive diversity trainings; equal access of ALL Smith students to visibility and representation; reform of Smith policy to be inclusive of gender identity." The event currently has almost 1,400 attendees.
At press time, Transcending Gender representatives had not replied to requests for comment. Last year, Transcending Gender advocated for a policy to allow trans* students to write letters or e-mails to students whom they had been assigned to host, explaining that they were identified as male. The prospective student would then be asked to sign a letter of consent acknowledging that their host was male, in addition to the letter of responsibility that prospective students are already asked to sign. The letters would absolve the college of legal responsibility should harm befall a prospective student during their visit.
Admissions Director Shaver said her office is aware some students disagree with the new policy, but stands by the change.
"The response to this decision has made it clear that there needs to be continuing dialogue with students and administrators about trans* student concerns and experiences at Smith," she said.