Rachel Grate
December 15, 2014 1:28 pm

What does it mean to be a women’s college in the 21st century? For more and more women’s colleges, the focus is now about creating a space for all marginalized identities — and that’s a change worth celebrating for people of all genders.

Last week, my home school Scripps College adopted a new admission policy effective Fall 2016. The new policy will consider any applicants who self-identify as women (regardless of their sex assigned at birth), or who report that the sex currently listed on their birth certificate is female.

Scripps is just one of over 40 women’s colleges in the country, and one of the many now reconsidering admission policies, in order to continue fostering a nurturing environment for all marginalized gender identities. For years, women’s colleges have required that application materials (including transcripts) identify applicants as female. However, with gender identity being recognized as more fluid, these policies have been insufficient to address transgender women or students who begin identifying as another gender while in college.

In an email to students, Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga wrote that the school’s new policy “reiterates Scripps’ identity as a woman’s college and commits to uphold its legacy as a ‘community of women’ . . .  while recognizing gender as a social construct that has evolved over time.”

This is just the beginning of a new wave of acceptance. 94% of Scripps students who responded to the proposed new policy said they supported it or a more inclusive policy, one that also includes applicants who don’t identify as male or female.

Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts adopted such a policy in September to welcome all transgender students, including those without a clear gender identity. This step built on actions taken by Mills College in Oakland, CA, last summer, which was the first women’s college in the nation to adopt a written policy admitting transgender students.

Alex Frumkin, a senior at Scripps who was active in the effort to change the admission policy, said in an interview with Hello Giggles that: “the idea that women’s colleges need to be a place for everyone who faces gender marginalization is really important . . . The change in policy really does open the door for trans-women who belong here at Scripps, and is updating our policy to reflect that we have had trans men on this campus before and will continue to have them.”

Women’s colleges have long been shown to prime women for success in a male-dominated society. While only 2% of women choose to attend a women’s college, graduates from women’s colleges represent over 20% of the female members of Congress. This success signals that women’s colleges are uniquely positioned to empower all marginalized genders.

While the policy at Scripps isn’t totally inclusive yet, Alex says that it’s an important first step that will hopefully pressure more schools into updating policies to reflect our understanding of gender in the 21st century. Many prominent women’s colleges, including Smith and Wellesley, have yet to address their admission policies, proof that progress is a journey. But this is definitely another step worth celebrating.