Activism Begins at Home: A Plenary Resolution Regarding the Admission of Trans Female Applicants to Bryn Mawr College

jfwright's picture

A few weeks ago, I created a blog post that discussed Bryn Mawr’s policy of case-by-case acceptance of the applications of prospective trans female students for review. Since this post, I have been spurred by the ideas we have discussed regarding creating right relationships: it is not enough to grant rights, which requires one group to assume authority over another, but rather, all groups must be treated respectfully, and with dignity and equality. It is in the spirit of respect, dignity, and equality that I introduce a draft of a Plenary resolution that recommends the unconditional review of applications of prospective trans female students for review by the Office of Admissions.

I would also like to make clear that while I have worked hard on this draft, I do not believe that it would be ready for presentation at Plenary: I have not attended any of the Resolution Writing Workshops offered by the Student Governance Association (SGA), and I will work with other Bryn Mawr students in order to refine this resolution. I have, however, read through all relevant documentation, including Bryn Mawr College’s Mission Statement, Bryn Mawr College’s “A Brief History of Bryn Mawr College,” (available at: http://www.brynmawr.edu/about/history.shtml), Bryn Mawr College’s Honor Code, the Constitution of Bryn Mawr College’s SGA, all Plenary resolutions mentioned in this resolution (and several others that were not mentioned), the minutes of the Fall 2011 Big Cheese Forum, several Bi-Co News articles, and several other documents available at brynmawr.edu.

One major flaw in my resolution is that faculty and staff are not bound by the Honor Code; however, as undergraduate students who have the power to exercise influence over faculty and staff through Plenary, I believe that employing the principles of the Honor Code creates a standard of conduct that students should, at least theoretically, follow in their voting at Plenary. I realize that another flaw is in the language of "trans female," as many trans women consider themselves simply female, without the qualifier "trans"; in addition, the language of "trans female" indicates that a physical transition is necessary, which is not what I am trying to say. However, I can think of no better language options.

I plan to present some edition of the following resolution at Bryn Mawr’s Spring 2012 Plenary, so I would sincerely appreciate any feedback.

 

Whereas, the founding principles of Bryn Mawr College included the dire need to support the advancement of women;

Whereas, the administration of Bryn Mawr College prides itself on its commitment to the diversity of the student body, as evident through administrative programs and institutions such as the Multicultural Center, and the Community Diversity Assistant (CDA) Program;

Whereas, the Admissions department of Bryn Mawr College currently considers the applications of trans female students for review on a case-by-case basis;

Whereas, Jenny Rickard, the Chief Enrollment and Communications Officer of Bryn Mawr College, stated during the Fall 2011 Big Cheese Forum that an applicant may only be admitted to Bryn Mawr College if the applicant “is represented consistently throughout their application as female”[1];

Whereas, Bryn Mawr continues to hold as one of its core values the support of disenfranchised individuals;

Whereas, Bryn Mawr has a deeply rooted tradition of civic engagement and advocacy both within the College and in the greater community;

Whereas, as stated in the preamble of the Honor Code, Bryn Mawr works to foster an environment in which “each member [of the community] is able to realize their full potential – a potential which is realized through intellectual and social growth” and that “growth requires more than a blind adherence to a code of conduct, it requires reflection – reflection upon actions and how our actions affect those with whom we share the community”[2];

Whereas, the Honor Code explicitly states that “we recreate the community through our participation,” and that “[w]e recognize that acts of discrimination and harassment, including, but not limited to, acts of racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and discrimination against religious and political minorities are devoid of respect and therefore, by definition, violate this Code”[3];

Whereas, Plenary was created in order for students to affect change within our community, and to make recommendations to staff to update rules according to ever-changing societal demands;

Whereas, the students of Bryn Mawr College have historically been receptive to changes that advance the acceptance of gender minority students on our campus, including, but not limited to, the following successful recent Plenary resolutions:

- the Fall 2008 change in elections By-Laws to have gender-neutral language, with “little to no disapproval from students;”[4]

- the Spring 2009 change in the language of the SGA constitution to have gender-neutral language;

- and, the Fall 2010 resolution establishing a committee to change all single-use bathrooms to gender-neutral bathrooms;

Whereas, the word “women” indicates gender, and is not interchangeable with the word “female,” which indicates sex;

Whereas, many states require trans women to undergo genital surgery in order to change federal[5] and state[6] documentation to reflect a “female” sex, and many individuals who identify as trans women do not have the financial resources for this expensive surgery, which is not covered by insurance, or may not elect to undergo this painful procedure;

Whereas, therefore, any effort to force a trans woman to prove her gender identity by a match with a female sex marker on legal documentation is not only cissexist, but also further disenfranchises trans women who cannot afford genital surgery, thereby creating a classist rule, which acts directly against the letter of the Honor Code;

Whereas, forcing a trans woman to prove that she has had genital surgery also violates her right to the privacy afforded to the other individuals accepted to Bryn Mawr College who do not have to reveal their medical histories as a condition of their acceptance to Bryn Mawr College, which acts as an ableist rule, which therefore acts directly against the letter of the Honor Code;

Whereas, while trans women may not always be female, they are women, and Bryn Mawr defines itself as a “women’s college” that supports trans men in their process of transition[7];

Whereas, trans women are frequent victims of hate crimes, rape, institutionalized cissexism, and other forms of physical and institutional violence;

Whereas, the non-review of the application of a prospective trans female student solely based on status of transition is inherently transphobic, cissexist, and unsupportive of a vulnerable minority population;

Whereas, although not enumerated by the Honor Code, transphobia and cissexism is against the spirit of the Honor Code;

Be it resolved, that admissions shall accept all applications of prospective trans female students for consideration of admission, without the stipulation that the applicant must prove to be female prior to review of the application.

 

Works Cited:

Bakke, Katherine. “Seven Pass at 2.5 Hour Bryn Mawr Plenary.” Bi-College News. 2/25/2009. Available online: http://www.biconews.com/archives/3510-seven-pass-at-25-hour-bryn-mawr-plenary.html.html

“Big Cheese Forum November 13, 2011 Minutes.” Available online: http://sga.blogs.brynmawr.edu/2011/11/19/big-cheese-forum-minutes-november-13th-2011/

Bryn Mawr College Honor Code. Available online: http://honorcode.blogs.brynmawr.edu/code/

“Driver’s License Policies by State.” The National Center for Transgender Equality. Available online: http://transequality.org/Resources/DL/DL_policies.html

“Federal Documents.” The National Center for Transgender Equality. Available online: http://transequality.org/Issues/federal_doc


[1] “Big Cheese Forum November 13, 2011 Minutes.” Available online: http://sga.blogs.brynmawr.edu/2011/11/19/big-cheese-forum-minutes-november-13th-2011/

[2] Bryn Mawr College Honor Code. Available online: http://honorcode.blogs.brynmawr.edu/code/

[3] Bryn Mawr College Honor Code

[4] Bakke, Katherine. “Seven Pass at 2.5 Hour Bryn Mawr Plenary.” Bi-College News. 2/25/2009. Available online: http://www.biconews.com/archives/3510-seven-pass-at-25-hour-bryn-mawr-plenary.html.html

[5] “Federal Documents.” The National Center for Transgender Equality. Available online: http://transequality.org/Issues/federal_documents.html#ss_gender

[6] “Driver’s License Policies by State.” The National Center for Transgender Equality. Available online: http://transequality.org/Resources/DL/DL_policies.html

[7] “Big Cheese Forum November 13, 2011 Minutes”

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

activism @ home

jrwright--
I like what you have done so far, and applaud your intention to go further. To help you along in the process, I'll send you the report of the trans task force, a report on our follow-up meeting w/ the prez, and a bit of the backstory (there are also links in there to other articles -and an NPR interview--that you might find useful).

You might also search both admissions and the intercultural office websites (where these policies were supposed to be posted) to see if any of what was recommended has been implemented.

Other material on Serendip that might be of interest/use to you includes work by pemwrez2009, llauher, charlie caplan and rae (whose focus is on gender queerness). Check out, too, the projects being done by your current classmates: aybala50's moving toward a right relationship between bryn mawr and transgender students, and S. Yaeger's (hopefully) inclusive conversation about right relationships between cis and trans feminists.

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