Smith College has developed an Admissions Policy Study Group. If you would like to share your own thoughts about the admissions policy with the Study Group, you are encouraged to do so via this web form.
Smith College Board of Trustees
College Hall 205
Northampton, MA 01060
December 15, 2014
Dear Smith College Board of Trustees and President McCartney,
I am writing this open letter to express my strong and continuing support for Smith College’s female-only admissions policy. As a proud Smithie (’00), an attorney, and a vocal feminist, I have thought long and hard about the issues raised by the campaign for transwomen’s inclusion at Smith on the basis of their “gender identities.”
Ultimately, a theoretical deconstruction of the social category “woman” such that anyone and everyone can identify as a “woman” does not reflect the historical purpose of Smith College or the needs of its students.
Being a woman is not a spiritual or metaphysical experience. It is not a feeling and it is not a performative utterance. Being a woman is a lived experience with material consequences. Smith’s admission policy must reflect some clear limitations on male gender identification, lest the social category “woman” become entirely meaningless.
The slogans “transwomen are women” and “transwomen belong here” sound righteous at first, but on deeper analysis, they are also frustratingly simplistic. The full implications of the proposed policy change must be considered. There is much more at stake than validating identities and proving how open-minded we are. In this letter, I will attempt to lay out some of the considerations that I believe must be taken into account and propose elements of a reasonable compromise.
Considerations Related to a Change in Admissions Policy
I. Continuing Need For Single-Sex Colleges
In her Final Will and Testament, Sophia Smith stated her wish to create:
“an Institution for the higher education of young women, with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for education equal to those which are afforded now in our Colleges to young men.”
Clearly, Smith was established as a kind of affirmative action against the exclusion of the female sex from higher education.
Despite all of the social and legal progress women have made over the past century, mixed-sex spaces simply do not offer women the same educational quality and opportunities they offer to men. From the prominence of male accomplishments and viewpoints in the curriculum, to the more responsive and encouraging treatment that males receive from teachers and administrators, studies have repeatedly demonstrated that women’s experiences in coeducational contexts, are not at all equal to male students’ experiences. 
The persistent and inescapable nature of sex-based bias in all levels of education is precisely the reason that many women continue to find value in Smith’s women’s-only environment.
II. Human Biology, “Gender Identity” and Neurosexism
As an institution that prides itself on academic and intellectual rigor—particularly in the STEM fields of study—Smith must not endorse the sloppy conflation of biological sex with the social constructs of gender. In addition, the College should be careful not to radically alter its admissions policy on the basis of unproven hypotheses about “brain sex” or speculation that it is possible to be “born in the wrong body.” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The idea that a metaphysical “woman” can be born into a male body is a truly extraordinary claim that has little, if any, hard science to support it.
Neurobiological theories of “gender” and the meanings inferred from brain differences between males and females can very often be traced back to sexist stereotypes about “men” and “women.” In studies of so-called transsexual brains, sample sizes are notoriously small and the findings are inconclusive. Many authors seem eager to analyze innate or “hard-wired” difference without accounting for the effects of socialization or neuroplasticity.
It is not “transphobic” to question these assertions or to strongly suggest that we should bring skepticism to bear on such claims. Quite the opposite, I believe it is our duty as educated people to consider whether old-fashioned sexist essentialism lies at the heart of “brain sex” theories of “gender identity.”
III. “Gender Identity” and the Subjectivity of “Identity Politics”
Lacking both material and experiential referents, “gender identity” is vague beyond comprehension. Without any measurable criteria, “gender identity” can manifest as pure theory, divorced from social reality.
Subjective self-descriptions and “identities” are not the entire basis by which social ‘positionality’ is determined or experienced. Peers, colleagues, and other social actors may reasonably disagree with the image one holds of herself, whether positively or negatively. I may consider myself to be any number of things, but no amount of identifying as X can make others perceive me as X if they don’t.
According to current definitions of the term “trans,” roughly 75% of those who identify as transwomen are not fully transitioned; many are not transitioned at all, and some have no intention of ever doing so.
Transwomen may retain their penises and secondary sex characteristics. They may retain offensive, stereotypical ideas about what “being a woman” means. They may talk loudly over women or on behalf of women while looking and sounding exactly like men.
If transwomen are admitted to Smith on the basis of their self-described “gender identity” alone, this scenario will undoubtedly play out not just on the sidewalks of Smith, but in Smith classrooms as well. It is an uncomfortable reality that all Smith students will have to confront: transwomen who have not medically or legally transitioned will apply for admission.
Possessing no standard beyond the vague and mutable category of “gender identity” and requiring no more than the use of the pronoun “she,” Smith will have no means by which to prevent this inevitability from occurring.
IV. Unintended/Legal Consequences
Further, permitting applications from any male who claims to identify as a “woman” expands the meaning of “single sex” beyond any reasonable legal interpretation.
I, and many other alumnae, would be devastated if Smith lost its Title IX status as single-sex college in a misguided attempt to demonstrate good will to activists who demand that the institution expend its limited time and resources validating male applicants’ “gender identities.” In addition, debates about the proposed change to Smith’s admission policy seem to omit discussion of the very real risk that Smith could face a lawsuit from males demanding inclusion regardless of their “gender identity.” It is naive to believe that such a challenge could not happen.
The Smith community will also have the daunting task of mediating certain sex-based situations that are routinely omitted from conversations about transwomen’s “gender identities.” For example, housing male and female students in the same spaces and male participation on Smith’s all-female sports teams will have to be addressed. There will be many women for whom these forms of sex-blending are not acceptable. During my years at Smith, I served briefly as a coxswain on the crew team. The presence of partially transitioned transwomen would have considerably changed team dynamics and the nature of physical competition in general. Especially in the case of untransitioned transwomen, sharing housing space and sports teams with males will pose serious problems of privacy and fairness to other women. These entirely foreseeable conflicts of interest must be resolved to the satisfaction of all students before the admissions policy is changed, not after.
Elements of A Reasonable Compromise
I. Need To Establish “Transition” Criteria
I do not believe that Smith—or any women’s college, for that matter—is in a position to evaluate the subjective “gender identities” of legally male people. Especially in light of the trend towards preferred pronoun practices, consistent use of the pronoun “she” is a weak criterion by which to measure whether an applicant is “a woman” for the purpose of admission to an all-women’s college.
If a policy change cannot be avoided, I propose that basic documentation showing duration of social transition and evidence of permanent legal transition from “male” to “female” are necessary elements of Smith’s admissions policies. The logistics of this proposal could entail something as simple as the additional requirement of providing a state or federally issued form of personal identification such as a drivers’ license, passport, or social security card. While some transwoman-inclusionists are sure to balk at this proposal, I repeat: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
The fact that most Smith students are young adults undergoing periods of significant personal growth and transformation only reinforces my belief that transwomen should demonstrate their commitment to transition before applying to and matriculating at Smith.
II. Need To Protect Freedom of Speech and Thought
The unconditional inclusivity of identity politics demands that we honor transwomen’s subjective identities as “women,” even if those identities conflict with our own perceptions. In some cases, it amounts to nothing less than suspension of disbelief. This is unprecedented political territory.
No Smith woman should be required to accept a male person as a “woman” if she does not believe it is so. It is perfectly fine if some Smith women choose to adopt a politic of identity libertarianism. At the same time, it is fundamentally unreasonable to expect that all Smith women should uncritically co-sign the “gender identities” of every male who wishes to lay a claim to “womanhood.” The pressure on women to be welcoming and accommodating of anyone who is “marginalized by gender” mirrors sexist stereotypes about women’s care-taking social responsibilities.
I have been personally censored and publicly attacked for daring to suggest that there must be some measurable standard by which we can differentiate males who are sincere and permanent in their transition to “womanhood” from those who are not. I am not ashamed of my position in any way. Many current and former Smith students, however, are unable to speak freely because they fear similar treatment. I hope that Smith’s policy makers will be sensitive to the hostility surrounding the debate about trans “gender identities” —including the many aspects of transwomen’s inclusion at Smith that are not regularly discussed— and continue to solicit the confidential input of alumni and students.
The Smith community celebrates the diversity of women and their accomplishments, fights sex-based stereotypes, and offers unique opportunities for women to explore the world and expand their minds. I love Smith for that. But Smith and its students are not obligated to provide space for and expend their resources on male people based on nothing more than a deconstructionist, and arguably sexist, theory of “gender identity.” Nor should all Smith women be required to welcome into their space every male who claims innate knowledge about what it means to be a “woman.”
Smith College has a responsibility to all current and future students to ensure that non-transitioned transwomen, also known as men, are not part of any incoming or outgoing classes at Smith. This should not be a controversial statement. It is simply common sense to build basic controls into the admissions policy designed to prevent males who have not fully transitioned— and cannot demonstrate intent to transition—from being admitted. This is the only consistent and legally justifiable means of maintaining Smith as a single-sex college in anything but name.
I hope you will take these important considerations under advisement as you review the admissions policy and plan for Smith’s future.
Elizabeth Hungerford, Class of 2000
 Sophia Smith’s Last Will & Testament, Thirteenth:
Full text here, accessed 12/14/2014: http://clio.fivecolleges.edu/smith/sophia/found/will/will_txt.htm
 Sidhu, Dawinder S., Are Blue and Pink the New Brown? The Permissibility of Sex-Segregated Education as Affirmative Action (2008). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 17, p. 579, 2008. Accessed online 12/10/2014 at http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/research/JLPP/upload/Sidhu.pdf
 See The Missing Half of American History by Beth Olanoff. August 7, 2014. Newsworks.org. Accessed 12/11/2014: http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/essayworks/71298-the-missing-half-of-american-history
 See Moss-Racusin, C. A., Dovidio, J. F., Brescoll, V. L., Graham, M. J., & Handelsman, J. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 16474–16479. doi:10.1073/pnas.1211286109.
See also: Milkman, Katherine L. and Akinola, Modupe and Chugh, Dolly, What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway into Organizations (July 11, 2014). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2063742 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2063742
 Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls by Myra Sadker; David Sadker. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994.
 Orenstein, P., & American Association of University Women. (1994). Schoolgirls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap. New York: Doubleday.
 Chen, Jacqueline M. and Wesley G. Moons. (2014) They won’t listen to me: Anticipated power and women’s disinterest in male-dominated domains. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.
 See The Case for Sex- and Gender-Specific Medicine JAMA Intern Med. 2014; 174(8): 1348-1349. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.320.
 Jordan-Young, Rebecca M. Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010. Print.
 Fine, Cordelia. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. Print.
 Button, KS, Ioannidis, JPA, Mokrysz, C, Nosek, BA, Flint, J, Robinson, ESJ & Munafò, MR 2013, ‘Power failure: why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience’. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol 14., pp. 365-376.
 For example, E. Lentini, M. Kasahara, S. Arver, and I. Savic. Sex Differences in the Human Brain and the Impact of Sex Chromosomes and Sex Hormones. Cereb. Cortex (2013) 23 (10): 2322-2336 first published online August 13, 2012 doi:10.1093/cercor/bhs222
 For example, E. Luders, F. Sánchez, D. Tosun, D. Shattuck, C. Gaser, E. Vilain and A. Toga, “Increased Cortical Thickness in Male-to-Female Transsexualism,” Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, Vol. 2 No. 3, 2012, pp. 357-362. doi:10.4236/jbbs.2012.23040.
 See Mount Holyoke’s recently announced admissions policy and the concept of ‘positionality’ that they have put forth. Accessed 12/13/2014 at https://www.mtholyoke.edu/policies/admission-transgender-students. I argue that male and female social positions are not interchangeable and we do not become similarly positioned through the wishful thinking of subjective “gender identity” alone.
 Grant, J. M., Mottet, L.A., Tanis, J.,Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Accessed 12/14/2014: http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf
See Transition, page 26; Gender Identity and the Public Sphere, page 27; and Surgery—Male-To-Female, page 79.
 See a feminist transsexual’s commentary on Justin Kilian here: http://snowflakeespecial.tumblr.com/post/101268179918/peak-trans-x-1-000-000-gallus-posted-an-edited. Full video of Kilian’s October 25, 2014 “Speech at the Rally for Trans Inclusion at Smith” on the Smith campus here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FI0iwMN8Zo#t=28
 See the case of Gabrielle (formerly Robert) Ludwig, a 6’6” tall male who joined the women’s Mission College basketball team in California. Accessed 12/14/2014 http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/2012/12/04/college-basketball-transgender-player-gabrielle-ludwig-robert-ludwig-mission-college/1744703/?sf7664870=1
 Internet only reference: When Women Become Men at Wellesley, by Ruth Padawer, New York Times, October 15, 2014. Accessed 12/15/2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/magazine/when-women-become-men-at-wellesley-college.html?_r=0