An exclusive, women's liberal arts college has rejected a transgender applicant because a government financial aid document still registers her as male.
Calliope Wong, a student at Amity Regional Senior High School in Connecticut, posted a picture of her official rejection letter to Tumblr on March 10.
Signed by Smith College's Dean of Admission Debra Shaver, the letter thanked Wong for her application but said that "Smith is a women's college, which means that undergraduate applicants must be female at the time of admission." The problem, according to the letter, is that Wong's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) identified her as male.
Smith's website states that the school "has a diverse and dynamic student body that includes individuals who identify as transgendered. However, "Smith only considers female applicants for undergraduate admission."
Smith College did not immediately respond to The Huffington Post's request for comment.
The Advocate writes that Wong might have to gender affirmation surgery before she can change her official gender identity in Connecticut. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes that, while name changes are relatively easy, proof of surgery is generally required in order to change the gender marker on a birth certificate or Social Security Card.
Writing on her blog, Wong said she felt betrayed by Dean Shaver, who she said had implied over the summer that Wong's application would get a fair evaluation:
Dean Shaver’s words to me over the summer, when I was still trying to figure out Smith’s transgender-acceptance policies, were that: “It seems to me that if your teachers provide the language you suggest, all your pronouns would be female and therefore consistent with what Smith is expecting.” She spoke of school papers and transcripts consistently reflecting “female” for my application. Nowhere was there mention of FAFSA, a federal financial aid form.
"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," Wong also wrote. "This is obvious discrimination on Smith’s part."
Still, Wong told the Huffington Post in an email the rejection was not a total surprise.
"As I read Dean Shaver’s first emails to me over the summer," Wong writes. "I had a bit of suspicion that my application would not receive the same treatment as any FAAB (female assigned at birth) applicant."
Sarah Giovanniello, a freshman in Yale College, has been covering Wong's case for Yale's feminist magazine Broad Recognition. She wrote in August that Smith's transgender admittance policy seemed unnecessarily confusing. "Perhaps," Giovanniello wrote, "this is an attempt by the college to have the 'best of both worlds' — remaining 'inclusive' while avoiding all of the problems involved with actually enrolling trans women."
As word of Wong's struggle spread, Smith students rallied to her defense in an outpouring Wong told HuffPost was simply "overwhelming." A Facebook group called Smith Q&A has started a photo project of women posing with signs supporting Wong. The homemade placards carry slogans like "Transwomen Belong at Women's Colleges" and "Trans ladies belong here!"
An organizer for Smith Q&A told HuffPost in a Facebook message that, as a "genderqueer/transguy at Smith," the situation with Wong is saddening. "It breaks my heart that there is room at Smith for me, a transmasculine person, but not for Calliope, who identifies as a woman," the student wrote. "I see my work with Q&A as an attempt to make Smith a space where transwomen can be supported as students and as people--both administratively and by the student body."
Another Facebook group, "Trans Women Belong at Smith College," has also lent its support to the cause.
Wong told the HuffPost that while she does not plan to appeal Smith's decision, she is in no way giving up on her cause.
"I continue working so that others who care about equal rights have access to the truth," Wong wrote. "And, most importantly, I do this for the transfolk after me, so that they might inherit better policies and a more just system of education.
Editor's Note: This post had been updated to include additional information from Calliope Wong.