Petition supports Smith College transgender applicant
Deb Shaver, right, who is the dean of admission at Smith College, accepts boxes containing more than 4000 signatures in protest from members of Smith Q&A members Sarah Fraas, from left, Emily Coffin, Elli Palmer, Ricia Elwell-Socci and Ollie Schwartz Thursday outside the admissions office after the college refused to consider an application from Calliope Wong, a transgender high school senior from Connecticut. Smith Q&A is an on-campus group that focuses on raising awareness about transgender issues at the college.
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Smith Q&A members Sarah Fraas, from left, Emily Coffin, Elli Palmer, Ricia Elwell-Socci and Ollie Schwartz Thursday outside the admissions office after the college refused to consider an application from Calliope Wong, a transgender high school senior from Connecticut. Smith Q&A is an on-campus group that focuses on raising awareness about transgender issues at the college.
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NORTHAMPTON — A group of Smith College students urged the women’s college Thursday to consider for admission all applicants who identify as female, whether they are legally labeled male or female.
They presented Dean of Admissions Debra Shaver with a Change.org petition signed by more than 4,000 people from around the country in support of changing the admissions policy that excludes trans women who are legally male.
“By presenting these petitions, we’re saying that this is an issue a lot of people care about, it’s not just a few students making noise,” said Elli Palmer, 19, a member of the campus group Smith Q&A, which started the petition. “The world has an opinion on this and a lot of people are behind us, so we want the college to take this seriously.”
The policy has been challenged before, but the issue recently became a national cause when the story of Calliope Wong, a 17-year-old male-to-female transgender girl from Connecticut, went viral on the Internet in March. Because Wong’s financial aid forms identified her as male, the college twice informed her that the application could not be considered because Smith College is a women’s college.
The petition asks Smith College to reconsider admitting Wong and to provide future transgender applicants an “equal opportunity for acceptance regardless of medical and legal transition status.”
Smith Q&A, a campus group that raises awareness about transgender issues, also wants the college to provide more support and clear, accessible information to transgender applicants so they know exactly what their application needs to look like in order to be considered.
“It should be as easy for a trans woman to apply as it is for me,” said Palmer, of Medford, N.J.
Shaver was friendly and joked around with the seven Smith Q&A members when she accepted the two boxes containing the signatures.
“This is an evolving issue,” she told them. “We want to be supportive of trans women and our trans students.”
Kristen Cole, the college’s media relations director, said in an email to the Gazette Thursday she is pleased that people are voicing their opinions on the “complex and evolving issue.”
Cole said college policy prevents her from commenting on Wong’s case, but that any transgender applicant who legally changes her gender to female before submitting her application would be considered for admission.
“An application from a transgender student is treated no differently from other applicants,” she said. “As a women’s college, Smith expects that all of the admission documents reflect an applicant’s status as a woman.”
“In its mission and legal status, Smith is a women’s college,” Cole said. She declined to specify if or how the college could change its policy about who qualifies as a female applicant.
She said the petition is just another part of the “larger, ongoing conversation” on the issue at Smith College. In the last few months, Shaver and Dean of the College Maureen A. Mahoney have been meeting with Smith Q&A to discuss the issue of transgender applicants, Cole said, and other campus groups organized a discussion among students and representatives of the offices of admission and student life on the same topic.
Palmer said she is encouraged by the receptiveness of college administrators.
“I definitely feel that there is a desire to get stuff done, but maybe we’re not on the same time line,” she said. “It feels like we’re working towards something.”
Wong’s story has changed the debate about transgender applicants at Smith College by making it a much more widely recognized issue, she said.
“It’s crazy how it works like that,” Palmer said. “She put something on Tumblr and blam it’s all over the Internet,” she said. “I think she’s really brave to be only a senior in high school and be the face of the issue.”
“It’s definitely helped get things done,” Palmer added.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at email@example.com.