Bryn Mawr “affirms. . . institutional identity as a women’s college” and the universal She

From an email I received from the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Bryn Mawr College about the “recommendation from a Board working group that was created at the September 2014 Board meeting to examine the mission of the College with respect to transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming applicants” that was “discussed and approved” last weekend.  I’m sure this working group came in response to this story from the New York Times last fall about trans* students at Wellesley.

The working group concluded unanimously that the mission of the College at the undergraduate level is to educate women to be future leaders. In its recommendation to the Board, the working group noted that Bryn Mawr’s identity as a women’s college is fundamental to its distinctive environment, one in which women are central, faculty assume and expect excellence from women, and women assume positions of leadership. The working group also recommended that the College use language that affirms our institutional identity as a women’s college (e.g. use of gendered language) while respecting the diversity of individual identities in the community.

The working group also proposed that the College more clearly articulate the eligible undergraduate applicant pool in the context of its mission. The Board approved the working group’s recommendation that in addition to those applicants who were assigned female at birth, the applicant pool will be inclusive of transwomen and of intersex individuals who live and identify as women at the time of application. Intersex individuals who do not identify as male are also eligible for admission. Those assigned female at birth who have taken medical or legal steps to identify as male are not eligible for admission.

In cases where an applicant’s gender identity is not clearly reflected in their application materials, the College may request additional information, which could include verifiable legal or medical steps taken to affirm gender. In evaluating such additional information, the College fully intends to be as flexible and inclusive as possible. 

Within the context of our mission as a women’s college, all Bryn Mawr students will continue to be valued and supported members of the community, no matter how their gender identity shifts during their time at the College.  

This strikes me as the correct path:  affirming the history and mission of a women’s college while becoming more explicitly welcoming to a range of gender identities except exclusively male before admission at the undergraduate level.  I especially liked the specific comment about pronouns, because, why would you want to go to a women’s college if you were offended by the universal “she?”  It’s only what women at 99% of all other institutions of higher learning have had to deal with for nearly two centuries in their universities’ and colleges’ mission statements, fight songs, folklore, promotional literature, and historic institutional bias.

(And that’s just the rhetorical construction of the modal student at those institutions–I’m not even going to get into the precarity if not outright hostility to women on many coeducational campuses:  the assumptions that–for example–we need to get ride vans when we leave the library, class, or the gym after dark so we won’t be raped; or that we need to police our drinking so that we won’t be raped.  As though we have that power!  Remember kids:  only rapists can stop rape!  But like I said:  I’m not even going to go there today.)

Your thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Bryn Mawr “affirms. . . institutional identity as a women’s college” and the universal She

  1. Sounds sensible and compassionate to me, too. I suppose one could get tangled up worrying that it somehow perpetuates the idea of women as “the second sex”/not-males (since the college is basically welcoming anyone who doesn’t identify as male at the time of application/admission), but one could also argue that it’s a pragmatic response to the historical and ongoing treatment of “not-males” of varying identities, and a continuation/expansion of the college’s historical mission to educate individuals who fall in that category.


  2. I don’t think they need to expel transmen who transition during college. That seems a ridiculous overreaction, but so does the notion that the presence of a few transmen means we can’t refer to the students as women or refer to a modal student as “she.”


  3. This strikes me as totally sensible. It makes room for intersex and trans women, and it won’t expel students who transition to male while students. But yes: it’s a women’s college. If you now identify as male, you accept that you are a student at a women’s college, or you transfer. (They don’t say that, but that’s implicit.)


  4. Given that everything everywhere is all about dudes, I think it makes a lot of sense to create some environments that are all about ladies.


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