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Elite women's college rejects transgender student, prompts outcry

by
education
education

By Zach Howard

NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A transgender high school student has had her application to a prestigious all-women's college denied because she is tagged as legally male on government documents, prompting a vocal online and social media campaign on her behalf.

Calliope Wong, 17, a Connecticut senior who was born a male but has identified as female since adolescence, says Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, twice opted not to read her application and returned it in the mail.

Almost all of Wong's paperwork to Smith, including transcripts and references, identifies her as female. But the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form from the U.S. Department of Education marks her as male, she told Reuters on Thursday.

Smith's admissions office told her the FAFSA designation makes her ineligible, based on Smith's policy that applications and supporting papers consistently reflect that the student is a woman.

Laurie Fenlason, Smith's vice president for public affairs, said the school does not comment on the status or admissibility of individual applicants. But she added, "Every application to Smith is treated on a case-by-case basis, and application materials must reflect female identity."

Smith also has legal concerns over changing its admissions policies, Fenlason said. Schools such as Smith are concerned they could lose federal funding under Title IX, a law that bans sexual discrimination in education but exempts single-sex institutions.

"Title IX is an important factor in our consideration but not the only one," she said. "Smith is focusing on the broader policy challenge of how to be inclusive and supportive of transgender students while being faithful to the mission of a women's college."

Wong's plight has garnered attention since she started to chronicle her experience with Smith on a Tumblr blog last year.

The case at Smith, which has admitted women only since opening in 1875, has triggered heated criticism among the school's often-progressive students and alumni.

Students and graduates have taken to social media sites, including the Facebook groups "Trans women belong at Smith College" and "Smith Q&A," to show support.

An online photo campaign depicts scores of people holding signs calling on Smith to allow transgender and transsexual females.

In Massachusetts and Wong's home state of Connecticut, a transgender person would need to have sex-reassignment surgery to change the legal sex on a birth certificate and thus amend a FAFSA form.

Wong has not undergone the costly reassignment procedure.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Todd Eastham)

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