Why Transgender Students Belong at Women's Colleges

Sometimes the fear of consequences appears so great that we hold on to tradition much longer than we need to. That was surely the case more than 100 years ago when the revolutionary idea of higher education for women was introduced. We are at another such groundbreaking moment now as women's colleges face the decision of whether and how to admit transgender women -- those assigned "male" at birth but whose gender identity and expression is female.

My school, Simmons College, recently formalized our policy on the admission of transgender students. While each women's college certainly has its own set of circumstances, history, and mission to consider, I believe that more women's colleges should follow suit.

In recent years, we have witnessed an evolution in societal norms surrounding gender identity and expression. Traditional notions of what it means to be a woman are being challenged, as those who do not subscribe to the traditional gender binary are bravely and increasingly expressing their gender identity. More people are educating themselves about the fluidity of gender, and new laws are emerging to protect individuals who do not fall in traditional gender categories.

These new definitions are already present in our communities, workplaces, and even pop culture. Actress Laverne Cox was the first trans woman to be nominated for an Emmy for her groundbreaking role in the hit Neflix series Orange Is the New Black. She also graced the cover of Time magazine with the bold headline "The Transgender Tipping Point." Last year, activist and New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock spoke on our campus about the struggle of the trans community to gain acceptance and live freely.

Historically, women's colleges have been safe havens for those who present nontraditional gender identities. Many women's colleges already support vibrant LGBTQA communities and are able to offer support and services for these groups. Like Simmons' own contribution to the It Gets Better Project, national anti-bullying campaigns have taken hold on these campuses, offering messages of hope and inclusion as an institutional value.

Some believe that accepting transgender applicants could dilute the benefits of a women-centered education. For Simmons, and for many other women's colleges, I believe that open policies toward transgender and gender-nonconforming students very much align with our historic missions, which value inclusion and acknowledge the evolving reality of gender expression.

Our community's reaction to the policy has been overwhelmingly positive. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni are proud of our decision to get on the "right side of history." As one person so eloquently told me, the policy "opened yet another door and turned on yet another light in the darkness."

Simmons College is pleased to join other women's colleges, including Mills and my alma mater, Mount Holyoke, in continuing to step further into the light, and to foster supportive and welcoming educational environments for all of our students.