By Sukey Lewis
Transgender students that identify as female will now be considered for enrollment at Mills College, an all-female school in Oakland.
Mills is the first single-sex college in the country to have a published policy for transgender applicants.
While some have said this new policy calls into question Mills College’s identity as a women-only undergraduate institution (the graduate division is coed), many students and alumni see this as the natural progression of Mills’ dedication to female education and inclusivity.
“When people can be authentically who they are — that’s who Mills is,” said Mills senior Tess Fillbeck-Bates.
“This is really just a codification of our practice for several years,” said Brian O’Rourke, vice president for enrollment management.
O’Rourke said that between three and five of Mills’ 1,000 applicants each year identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. A clear admissions policy will help make the application process easier and less stressful for these students, he said.
One Mills alum commented on the KQED Forum page that something might also be lost with this new policy.
“I would argue that women’s education was established to meet a great and persistent problem of disparity in educational involvement and leadership opportunities among young women and girls — not to protect marginalized populations at large,” she wrote.
Senior Sonj Basha says the new policy is an opportunity for the college to create a campus culture that is safe, inclusive and committed to social justice. Basha, who identifies as gender queer or gender non-conforming and prefers gender-neutral pronouns, said it’s not so much about policing pronouns as respecting identities.
“I take all of my identities into consideration, and I think Mills also prides itself on understanding intersectionality,” Basha said. “For me, being gender queer is just one aspect of my identity. But I ask people to respect all aspects of my identity.”
Fillbeck-Bates said she was largely unaware of the scope of gender identities before coming to Mills.
“On my first day of orientation they asked me to say where I was from and what my PGP was. And I (was) like, ‘What is a PGP?’ “she said. (PGP stands for preferred gender pronoun.)
But Fillbeck-Bates quickly learned that Mills was a safe place to ask these kinds of questions.
“Misunderstanding becomes a place for learning, for higher education. That is what Mills does,” she said.
Brad Dacus, constitutional attorney and president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense organization, said that while he would defend the school’s right to have this policy, there might also be some legal and privacy issues.
“For example, if you have someone who’s transgender, perhaps they haven’t had the surgery. They’re still biologically, physically male,” he said. “Then the school needs to be very sensitive to the privacy interests of females, for instance, who may not feel comfortable changing in the same locker room or showering.”
The policy takes effect on Sept. 1, and the first students affected by this policy change would begin their studies in the spring semester of 2015.