If you’re a transgender teenager, changing all of your identification to match your gender identity by the time you apply for college isn’t just hard, it might be impossible. In many U.S. states, in fact, you would have to receive costly surgery before receiving an updated birth certificate or driver’s license. So if you think a few hundred dollars in college application fees is expensive, try a hospital bill for $20,000 dollars or more! Unless you’re BFFs with Elle Fanning, not a lot of teenagers have that sort of money lying around.
Luckily, women’s colleges in the U.S. are slowly beginning to change their policies to allow all women to apply, not just women who were assigned a female gender at birth. Last week, Simmons College in Massachusetts became the third women’s college in the U.S. to adopt an admissions policy that includes transgender women. So far, Mills College in California and Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts also welcome applicants who haven’t been able to play the absurdly difficult, Pokémon-esque game of collecting female gender markers on all their forms of identification.
The admission of transgender women into women’s colleges strikes a lot of young people as a no-brainer because transgender women are, you know, women — it’s right there in the name, even. Allowing transgender women to attend women’s colleges isn’t a matter of admitting people who are radically different from the current student body, it’s a matter of changing existing policies to allow all women to gather under one inclusive roof. Women’s colleges should already be places for transgender women — what’s happening now is that administrators are playing catch-up with changing understandings of gender. As one Simmons student told the Boston Globe, “It’s a matter of equality and a matter of fairness that women should be able to go to women’s colleges even if that’s not how they were assigned at birth.”
It’s especially important, too, that women’s colleges admit transgender students because people are transitioning younger than ever before, thanks to increasing cultural acceptance and legal support. One amazing 14-year-old named Jazz Jennings, who transitioned to female at the age of 5, was even selected as one of Time’s 25 most influential teens of 2014. Jazz has already co-written a book on growing up transgender, met Bill Clinton, and been interviewed by Barbara Walters, in case there was any doubt that a girl brave enough to transition at 5 also kicks some serious ass.
With efforts underway to change admissions policies at women’s colleges like Barnard and Smith, hopefully girls like Jazz will have even more women’s colleges to choose from in a few years. After all, with three women’s colleges openly welcoming trans students so far, there are still 45 left to go. For almost 200 years now, these colleges have been valuable places for women to learn and grow together. Hopefully they can now become places where all women can continue to do just that.