The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
There are currently 119 single-gender colleges and universities in the United States.
Mills College in Oakland, California, has become the first of those institutions to admit transgender students.
The college’s undergraduate admission policy on “transgender or gender questioning- applicants” now permits “applicants whose gender identity does not match their legally assigned sex” as of the 2014-2015 academic year.
In other words, applicants who were identified as male at birth but who now identify as female are welcome to apply, though applicants who were identified as female at birth but who now identify as male and have legally changed their gender are excluded from consideration.
Mills College expects that only a handful or so of the students in any incoming class will be male-to-female transgenders.
Last year, Smith College generated some controversy when it denied admission to Calliope Wong, a transgender student who was identified as male at birth, now identifies as female, but is still legally identified as male.
Despite Mills College’s progressive stance on this issue, the complexities in identifying gender in a world in which simple, binary categories have given way to ever more complex possibilities do reinforce the sense that single-gender institutions may be not just anachronistic but somewhat arbitrarily so.
Moreover, it is worth noting that the “mainstream” media has paid relatively little attention to this issue and that almost all of the coverage has been provided by the Far Right media and by LGBT websites and blogs. That this sort of story is now treated as “sensational” only by the Far Right media is in itself a major indicator of how far we have come as a nation in accommodating individual identities and in transcending gender categories and stereotypes.
The commentators on the Far Right would like us to believe that a society in which “male” and “female” no longer suffice as universal, binary categories is one in which fundamental moral values are in jeopardy. But the reality seems to be that a society that can accommodate the full spectrum of individual identities, including gender identifications, is one in which everyone has equal value—in which everyone has an inherent sense of self-worth and a full opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the common good.