The End of the Women’s College
Back in 2010, 76 percent of the Scripps College student body voted in favor of a measure to make the language of its student constitution more inclusive of those who did not identify as female at the college. Instances of “she,” “her,” and “women,” among other terms, were replaced with gender- and sex-neutral phrases, such as “the student” or “students.”
Now that the Scripps administration has issued a new policy that allows for the intentional admission of transmen and -women, will it pick up where the students left off?
Effective in the fall of 2016, Scripps will consider applicants for admission “who report that the sex currently listed on their birth certificate is female” (including transmen) and “who self-identify as women” (i.e., transwomen). The college advertised the admissions policy in a Dec. 6 letter as one that “reiterates Scripps’ identity as a women’s college.” According to a FAQ page that the college created to address the new admissions policy, “the broader purpose of the women’s college has always been to provide a safe haven to build the minds of the gender marginalized in our culture.”
The proffered excuse for the new policy – that women’s colleges are really institutions for the “gender marginalized” of society – strikes one as little more than an ad hoc rationalization. Scripps had an end – touting the popular liberal stance on the issue of transgenderism without compromising its identity as a women’s college – and invented the means to get there.
But, of course, women’s colleges were not created as institutions for every subset of the gender-marginalized of society. They were created as institutions in which to educate one particular group discriminated against in the higher-education market: women. And regardless of one’s opinion on the politics of transgenderism, one of these groups, either transmen or transwomen, must be considered men. The intentional admission of men to an institution created for the purpose of educating only women does not reaffirm, but is rather a radical departure from, that institution’s identity.
Although the reasoning behind Scripps’ new policy is dubious, will it have any tangible consequences? Not only could transmen who applied as women already attend the college, but admitting a few transwomen would seem to have a negligible effect on the Scripps student body and the experience of the average Scripps student.
As the administration rightly points out on the FAQ page, because of its situation as a member of the Claremont Colleges, Scripps has never been a space only for women. Even though Scripps will now intentionally admit men, men from the other colleges can already attend classes at Scripps, eat at the dining hall, and access many of the college’s facilities as frequently as Scripps students themselves. The primary logistical problem that the policy presents concerns on-campus housing, but there are many remedies available to the Scripps administration to ensure that every student is comfortable with his or her living arrangement.
Yet, the policy still threatens to change Scripps irrevocably through a more subtle mechanism. It is not the physical presence of men, but rather the collision of the transgender movement with the values of the modern liberal campus that will ultimately be Scripps’ undoing.
On a campus where every distinction is a “micro-aggression,” every potentially offensive idea accompanied by a “trigger warning,” and every hurt feeling satiated in its demands for reparations, Scripps cannot survive the politics of transgenderism unscathed.
Although Scripps rationalized its new admissions policy with the purpose of serving the gender-marginalized, it will have to uproot many of its traditions and significantly alter its campus in order to ensure that those it claims to be protecting from gender-marginalization do not actually feel marginalized by expressions of gender at the college.
Take, for instance, the college’s unofficial motto, “The Women’s College”: How does a motto that excludes a segment of students at Scripps – on a particularly sensitive distinction, no less – aid Scripps in its mission to serve as a safe haven for the gender-marginalized? Will the Dean of Students Office dismiss the complaints of a male student who feels marginalized and out of place because of the women-centric rhetoric at the college – as if he were not really a member of the community – as if he were invisible? Will an energetic group of student activists – who already voted to rid their own bylaws of any reference to those with two X chromosomes – really stand for such injustice?
Why not change the motto to something more inclusive, such as “Scripps College: College of the Gender-Marginalized”? Or, to take a page out of the student handbook, “Scripps College: The Students’ College.” At the very least, “Scripps College: The [Trigger Warning!] Women’s College.”
And there are other elements of Scripps’ campus that demand revision. When Scripps ornaments its campus with papier-mâché molds of the female anatomy, students who lack such a body, but still view themselves as women, may feel their gender identity being compromised before their very eyes. Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s school in Massachusetts, will no longer perform The Vagina Monologues for this very reason.
Indeed, the experiences of other women’s colleges are indicative of what Scripps can come to expect. Although Wellesley College, a women’s college in Massachusetts, has not revised its admissions policy to include transwomen, it has become embroiled in the national debate because of the advocacy of several transmen who are alumni of the college, such as Alex Poon, who graduated in 2012. In her New York Times essay, entitled “When Women Become Men at Wellesley,” Ruth Padawer recounts Poon’s experience of winning Wellesley’s hoop-rolling race, a 131-year-old tradition at the college:
A small local newspaper covered the event, noting that for the first time in the school’s history, the winner was a man. And yet the page on Wellesley’s website devoted to school traditions continues to describe the race as if it involves only women. “Back in the day, it was proclaimed that whoever won the Hoop Roll would be the first to get married. In the status-seeking 1980s, she was the first to be C.E.O. Now we just say that the winner will be the first to achieve happiness and success, whatever that means to her.” But Alex isn’t a her, and he told me that his happiness and success includes being recognized for what he is: a man.
By continuing to call itself a women’s college and decorating its campus with references to “sisterhood” and other exclusionary terms and images, transgender students may feel overlooked at Scripps, like Poon and others have at Wellesley.
Perhaps the all-women’s college has simply lived long enough to see itself become an outdated institution in the battle for progress. Progress seems to dictate that Scripps no longer call itself a “women’s college,” stop referring to its students as “women,” and rid its campus of any inordinate expressions of sisterhood.
After that, what is it, really? Certainly not a women’s college in any meaningful sense of the term.
And, frankly, that is tragic, especially for alumni who are rightfully concerned about where this new admissions policy threatens to take a beloved college that they thought crucial to their development as women.
Somehow “Scripps College: The Students’ College” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.