In our country, some colleges are all-female. They were created to widen the access of women to education, create strong female unions, and empower the students. As the concern over trans rights rose, it became obvious that the issue of trans inclusion is problematic when it comes to all-female colleges. The debates grow sharper, people throw accusations and threats; the sooner this problem is resolved, the better.
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In this work, I discuss the arguments of both sides of the trans inclusion debate, demonstrating that the points of both pro and contra movements are solid and convincing. Next, I explain that different ways exist for understanding gender, which further complicates the issue. Finally, I evaluate the possible solutions for the problem and conclude that the best option is to let each institution develop and execute their policy.
Trans Inclusion Debates
In contemporary American higher education, an ardent debate is going on regarding the access of trans people to women-only educational institutions. The opposing sides present the following arguments to prove their point.
Those supporting the admittance of trans people to all-female colleges claim that, for transgenders, such colleges are safer physically and psychologically (Padawer, 2014, par. 2). In other colleges, transgender people may face discrimination and even physical violence. It is known that in colleges where cis men are admitted those pushing the borders of gender conformity are often “punished” by their cis male classmates. Also, those in favor of trans inclusion explain that trans people do exactly what all-female colleges promote: reject stereotypes and achieve success despite the hostility and disapproval of the society and traditional culture (Padawer, 2014, par. 13).
The individuals and organizations opposing trans inclusion in higher education stress that one of the main purposes of all-female colleges is to ensure the safety of the female students. With male-bodied classmates, no matter how they identify, safety becomes put under the question (Padawer, 2014, par. 57). Women-only colleges were created in the times when women were forbidden to study at traditional colleges. The purpose of the new institutions was to give education to those robbed of it, to create sisterhoods, and to promote female empowerment. By entering such colleges, people who are male-bodied or identify as males undermine the noble mission of these colleges (Padawer, 2014, par. 8). If one is female-bodied but does not identify as a woman, the arguers say, there is no point in applying to a women’s college. If an applicant is a transwoman, then, raised as a man, she does not understand the pain and discrimination that other college students have gone trough (Goldberg, 2014, par. 3). Her male privilege has been empowering enough, so she does not need college for empowerment (Goldberg, 2014, par. 5).
Gender Definition Debates
Furthermore, the very definition of gender is debated. The participants of the debate offer the following views on gender: a performance of particular acts believed to be male or female, a form of individual self-understanding, and an unjust social system that provides men with greater power.
As some thinkers believe, the concept of gender presents two sets of specific guidelines; by choosing one of them, one becomes a man or a woman (Bornstein, 1995, p. 102). For instance, if one wears dresses, plays with dolls as a kid, and is interested in raising children, then one is a woman. If one wears khaki pants, plays with toy soldiers, and pursues a career, then one is a man. If one breaks the rules, one is ostracized. As Kate Bornstein (1995) explains, two choices are no choice at all, but people choose since they do not want to become outsiders.
Some people, especially transgenders and their supporters, are sure that gender is a way of self-understanding. If a person feels that they are a man, but they are female-born, they are female, and their body should be regarded as female and the other way around. Such people consider gender to be their identity.
Many individuals, particularly radical feminists, claim that the concept of gender causes oppression of women by men. In the oppressive system, women choose to become men, for it raises their status (Goldberg, 2014, par. 21). Gender labels give an excuse for violence since the concept of gender is based on misogyny. Gender ensures such a power imbalance that discrimination may look similar to cast oppression in India (Bornstein, 1995, p. 104-105). Being more powerful, men are unaware of what it means to be “the lesser sex.” It makes transwomen disturbing and even dangerous for cis women.
Considering all the arguments listed above, it is necessary to work out an appropriate solution regarding the trans inclusion in women-only colleges. First of all, it is quite helpful to review the solutions that are proposed most often.
Trans people and their supporters demand that all-female educational institutions admit all transgenders since they either identify as women or are women-bodied, and they need the safety and empowerment of such institutions. However, then these colleges would transit from “all-female” to “all-but-cis-men” principles. Besides, cis female students would be concerned about their safety and the change in the mission and vision of their college.
Furthermore, forcing every college to adopt a uniform policy in this issue is undemocratic and contradicts the values of American education.
Admit no one
Those concerned about safety and college mission propose to limit or altogether stop admitting trans students since they either do not identify as women or have male bodies. Such a policy would ensure cis women’s safety and contribute to their empowerment. However, it can be labeled as discriminatory and would rob trans students of safe spaces. Also, similarly to the previous option, it is not appropriate to make all colleges adopt this policy.
To my belief, such options are too black-and-white; the real policy should be much more complicated. I consider that every all-female college should work out its policy regarding this issue. Some colleges may only accept cis females, some may also admit trans men, others can allow trans women to apply. They may or may not decide on the admittance of non-binary people based on their physical characteristics. Colleges should not be pressured into making a particular decision. A diversity of policies would lead to a diversity of options. A transwoman would be able to choose a college where trans women are admitted. A cis female concerned about her safety would pick a college for cis females only. Thus, everyone would be satisfied.
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The debate over trans inclusion is fierce, and each side proposes convincing arguments. The opposition mentions female safety empowerment that women-only colleges provide. The promoters of trans inclusion say that trans people need safety and empowerment as well. Things get more complicated since people understand gender differently. To my firm conviction, a compromise is both possible and necessary. If each college is allowed to develop its policy, a variety of options will be available, and each student will be able to select the most favorable option.
Bornstein, K. (1995). Gender outlaw: On men, women, and the rest of us. London, UK: Psychology Press.
Goldberg, M. (2014). What is a woman? The New Yorker. Web.
Padawer, R. (2014). When women become men at Wellesley. The New York Times. Web.