The Wrong Side of History

Avi Cummings and Dean Spade Time article: "Women's Colleges Are on the Wrong Side of History on Transgender Women"


A trans-identified graduate of Barnard College, Dean Spade believes that women's colleges are perpetuating transphobia and discriminating against prospective students when they use gender markers on documents submitted in college applications to decide whether a student is eligible for admission.

Women's colleges, according to Spade, should accept trans women, and in not doing so they "are endorsing and strengthening a concept at the root of transphobia: the belief that trans people are not who we say we are."

He explains that the processes of changing the gender marker on one's documents such as passports are different for individual government agencies, making the system "arbitrary, inconsistent and harmful". Sometimes changing a gender marker also involves medical care or legal assistance. Therefore, Spade says, "Tying admissions policies to gender on identification documents disproportionately excludes people who have the hardest time accessing health care and the legal and administrative processes required by these policies: young people, poor people, people with disabilities and people of color." Students who already have to deal with these systems of oppression should not have to deal with further discrimination and difficulty when they are applying to college.

What's more, Dean Spade is not just arguing for the inclusion of trans women alone. He relates this issue to the overall system of gender oppression in education. Excluding trans women, he says, is not going to help end this kind of oppression. Women's colleges were founded to give women educational opportunities that other colleges systematically denied them, and now these same women's colleges are systematically excluding a group of women. Spade argues that women's colleges should include all trans students in order to combat gender oppression in education.

"There is now an opportunity to redefine who women’s colleges should serve. Founded in response to gender discrimination and the limited options that women faced in education, women’s colleges continue to exist to provide educational access to people who face gender discrimination. Fulfilling this mission would demand that women’s colleges serve all trans students, including trans women."

Dean Spade has addressed this issue not only in Time but also directly to students and administration at Barnard College. Two Barnard students, Ruth Uruchima and Emilie Segura, wrote about Spade's attendance at a Barnard Student Government Association town hall meeting here:

The page includes written descriptions of Spade's arguments, as well as several short video clips of his main points. The full video of his entire talk is included at the end.