On May 2, Massachusetts’ Smith College announced it would be changing its admissions policy to explicitly allow transgender women to attend the all-women’s school. With the change, Smith joins a number of other women’s colleges in the US that have updated their admissions policies in an effort to become more trans-inclusive.
“Society’s definition of what it means to be a woman is changing,” Smith spokesperson Stacey Schmeidel tells Quartz. Now, any person who identifies as female on their application will be considered for admission, regardless of their gender assigned at birth. The decision comes after years of protests and criticism leveled against the college for what advocates view as exclusionary practices.
In a post about the decision, the college said including transgender women is an indication of its commitment to educating women.
Smith College’s mission—to educate women of promise for lives of distinction—remains unchanged. The board’s decision reaffirms this mission in light of society’s evolving understanding of female identity.
There are strong arguments to be made for allowing transgender women to attend all-women’s colleges. Writing in the New Republic earlier this year, Monica Potts argued that women still struggle to achieve and be comfortable with positions of power in society, and fostering leadership in an all-female setting is a positive thing.
A student can transition from female to male while attending Smith, and remain enrolled. However, Smith is keeping its doors closed to applicants who identify as transgender men, as well as people who do not identify with a single gender. “Applicants to Smith must check ‘F’ on the common app,” Schmeidel says.
Long considered one of the most prominent women’s colleges in the US, Smith’s change of heart does not mean the debate over admissions policies is likely to end anytime soon. Americans have historically considered gender to be binary—a person is either male or female. However, this understanding is changing; half of millennials in the US now believe that gender is fluid, according to a Fusion survey of 1,000 people aged 18-34. Within this more fluid definition, women’s colleges will need to decide how they fit in.