Sophia Smith Grows a Pair


It’s a sign of our depraved times that when the Smith College board of trustees announced a new admissions policy, the change was not heralded with a bang, not even with a whimper. Although “bang” and “wimp” are both concepts relevant to the policy as it now stands. Smith College, founded by an 1870 bequest from Sophia Smith to fund

the establishment and maintenance of an Institution for the higher education of young women, with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for education equal to those which are afforded now in our Colleges to young men,

has decided to chuck Mother Sophia’s dying wish and accept those very same young men for whom an “education equal” to that available on the leafy Northampton, Massachusetts campus abounds unto today on co-educational institutions across the land.

Providing, of course, said “young men” lie on their applications to Smith by stating that they are women:

Applicants who were assigned male at birth but identify as women are eligible for admission.

See now how “wimp” has an application in the new policy? The “bang” comes later, when the doll decides it is a dude after all and dormitory hijinks ensue.

Also see how Sophia Smith went out of her way, through deliberate pleonasm (“my own sex”), to state the kind of college she thought she was establishing–an institution for the exclusive benefit of members of the female sex. Smith did not mince her words, and she presciently foresaw the angels dancing on the head of the gender pin. Smith used a biological term to say what she meant, and although the Smith College trustees would have us believe otherwise, all evidence suggests that this intelligent and strong-minded woman meant exactly what she said.

Some of you skeptics might think this is a backdoor means of reconstituting Smith as a coeducational college, a way of accepting men but pretending not to. Perhaps it will soothe your ire to know that Smith does draw a firm line at who it will and will not accept:

Smith does not accept applications from men. Those assigned female at birth but who now identify as male are not eligible for admission.

For a college masquerading as single-sex, this makes trading one set of confused young people for another set of confused young people a zero-sum game.

Smith College: Reba–out; Alec–in!

Further, those of you who think that the new policy is but the glans under the skirt should be reassured by knowing the college’s “focus on women’s education means that we consider for admission applicants who identify as women and who seek entrance into a community dedicated to women’s education.” In other words, no genderqueers need apply. Notice, however, the coy use of “focus,” which suggests, but does not actually mean, “exclusive attention.” So who knows what group the trustees will welcome next?

It doesn’t matter, really, because the college has a team in place to deal with all eventualities:

President Kathleen McCartney is establishing a working group to develop a comprehensive approach to supporting transgender and gender non-binary students at Smith. The group will extend the expertise that departments across the college, including Residence Life and Athletics, already have in meeting the needs of trans students and ensuring a healthy, welcoming environment for all. In addition, there are already a number of student organizations for transgender students and allies. Further, the NCAA has very clear regulations around eligibility of transgender students to compete in intercollegiate athletics.

Do you read this paragraph the same way I do? That the “welcoming environment for all” errs on the side of “meeting the needs of trans students” at the expense of finding appropriate housing, sports, activities and classes for the females benighted enough to think that they were admitted to a women‘s college?

In fact, the entire policy raises more questions for me than it answers. I am particularly addled by the firm stance Smith takes on apparently all but the girliest girls: “Smith does not accept applications from men. Those assigned female at birth but who now identify as male are not eligible for admission.” Am I given to understand there is no place for butch lesbians at Smith? Bull dykes will be shoved out of the Diploma Circle? Will bois and soft butches be placed on probation?

Watch the trustees’ heads explode when Julia Sweeney applies for admission.

Once an institution of higher learning starts to play “let’s pretend” with its policies, it ceases to exert the the kind of intellectual, moral, and values-based authority that it would otherwise command. Smith College is populated with extraordinarily gifted faculty, staff, and students. What a waste.

Sic transit Sophia Smith.

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3 thoughts on “Sophia Smith Grows a Pair

  1. 1. Butch =/= male. Butch women are still women.
    2. Transgender women are women.
    3. Most of the student body, faculty, staff, and administration support this change.
    4. Get with the times and nurture a little compassion in your spirit.

    • 1. When one bases “identity” on as shallow a premise as external appearance (I dress like a chick therefore I am a chick.), it’s but a short step to judging masculine-looking women as “not our kind.” Were I a diesel dyke on your fair campus, I’d be watching my back.
      2. Individuals who tamper with their biological realities can call themselves anything they want, but a change in nomenclature, alas, is only that and nothing more.
      3. Sure, and I bet everybody expressed her own true opinion.
      4. I have nothing but compassion (well, sorrow, too) in my spirit for the future generations of men and women who will be left to unweave the tangled web of deceit foisted on the American public by those in positions of academic power who choose to play their tawdry mind games on impressionable students.

      Thanks for writing, Sarah! Invite your friends.

  2. One of the sure signs of an inadequately developed intellect is when an aggrieved/injured/outraged individual demands that who ever has dared to espouse a point of view they disagree with must “show some compassion” Someone must tell me when the definition for compassion was changed to, “shut up, your ideas suck.”

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