Erin Buzuvis: Title IX no basis for excluding transgender students
To the editor:
In the recent story about Smith College and transgender applicants (“Transgender applicants’ rejection from Smith causes stir,” Gazette, March 27), the president of Mount Holyoke College stated that single-sex colleges are “constrained” by Title IX from admitting students who are not legally female.
The president is correct that, under Title IX, a college can lose its federal funding if it discriminates on the basis of sex. However, it is not the case, as the president suggests, that Title IX’s exception for single-sex colleges requires Smith and Mount Holyoke to refuse to consider the applications of transgender students, or else jeopardize this funding.
This is because Title IX does not actually contain an exception for single-sex colleges. The reason that Smith and Mount Holyoke can remain single sex is that Title IX does not apply to private colleges’ undergraduate admissions. See 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(1): (“In regard to admissions to educational institutions, this section shall apply only to institutions of vocational education, professional education, and graduate higher education, and to public institutions of undergraduate higher education”).
This exception allows Smith and Mount Holyoke (and Amherst and Hampshire, for that matter) to discriminate against people who are not legally female if they so choose.
But the exception also means that Smith and Mount Holyoke can decide for themselves who qualifies as female for the purpose of admissions, without putting their federal funding at risk.
The view that Title IX prevents single-sex colleges from considering the applications of transgender students is incorrect.
If Smith and Mount Holyoke have other reasons for excluding transgender students, they should name them. Title IX should not be part of the discussion.
Erin Buzuvis is a professor at Western New England University School of Law and director of its Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies.