Exactly one year after the trans-inclusive admissions policy was announced, I found myself screaming at convocation once again, although for different reasons this time. As one of the speakers continuously referred to the student populous in the crowd as every permutation of “bright Mount Holyoke women,” I yelled out “NOT EVERYONE WHO GOES TO MOUNT HOLYOKE IS A WOMAN”.
At that moment it became all too clear that Mount Holyoke has not made a single move to actively change the way faculty and administration view the student body. Mount Holyoke doesn’t care about trans and non-binary people on campus. What Mount Holyoke wanted to be was the first Seven Sisters’ school to adopt a trans-inclusive policy, but ended up being the first to fail whom the policy was meant to serve.
Looking back on convocation 2014, me, among so many others were thrilled to find out that our school will now begin admitting trans women—along with assigned female at birth non-binary people, assigned male at birth non-binary people, and trans men. Not only was the new admissions policy formally announced by President Pasquerella during convocation, but soon after the initial one took place, dozens of media outlets from HuffPost to BuzzFeed boasted about the crucial example we’re setting for the other Seven Sisters schools to follow. It was easy to get caught up in all the buzz about Mount Holyoke admitting trans-identified people to a historically cisgender women’s college, but the problem was in that exactly—The school was admitting trans folks, but taking no steps towards actually welcoming them once on campus.
We began to get nervous. Students were wondering if the school had done anything at all to truly create a trans-inclusive environment for not only the incoming class, but for us trans students already living on campus as well. With nerves abound, many of us figured it’d be best to take matters into our own hands, to rev up a student-led activist movement to raise awareness about pronoun usage, in-class dynamics between trans students and cis professors; we wanted to create a safer environment with the limited institutional power we had. As students, we were effectively left abandoned by the lack of transparency from administration, and alarming non-existence of any dialogue between the powers that be and student body.
Quickly becoming fed up with the abandonment on part of the school, several of us student activists decided to approach the elephant in the room in the most direct way possible—by scheduling a dinner with the deans. It was hard to feel as though there was any receptiveness on part of the college deans, the concerns we aired (“How are trans students going to be safely housed?” “What steps is the school taking to implement a sensitivity training for all staff and faculty?”) were answered in vague and partial pieces (“We’re dealing with it on a student-by-student basis.” “We’re working on it”). Most disturbingly, when we mentioned that we truly were not the first women’s college in the country to begin accepting trans women, one dean snapped back at us with “well, we were thinking about it before any of them!” The pervasive attitude of administration for Mount Holyoke to be the historically women’s college to pave the way for all the others far outweighs taking any tangible and meaningful action to working for the welfare of the students, unless the student body somehow coincides with the publicity-based interests of the school.
One year of frustration in working towards a better Mount Holyoke (by just barely working through Mount Holyoke’s administration), I felt a resurgence of the same disappointment and anger bubbling in me after the dinner with the deans all those months ago. I found out from current first-year students that there were no school-sanctioned activities during orientation centered around support for trans folks on campus. Any dialogue about the trans policy at our school was lead entirely by student orientation leaders in small groups. Trans students were neglected by the same people who proudly announced their new acceptance at Mount Holyoke College. Several trans-identified first-year students have already had to be put into singles due to threat of safety by roommates who don’t understand their gender identity and expression. The classroom experience remains oblivious to any pronouns besides the default she/her we assume of all students at Mount Holyoke.
Our administrators have sent an overwhelmingly clear message to us trans students on campus: they don’t care about us. Our usefulness only goes as far as a publicity stunt to gain more visibility and traction within the currently trendy topic of trans people existing in previously inaccessible institutions. This has happened with all disenfranchised students on campus, from undocumented to international students alike: If there are cameras and reporters, we are thrown in front of them like lifeless ragdolls. When it comes to our humanity at this college, we remain just as invisible as we’ve always been.