More on trans women at Smith:
In February of 2010, I applied to the Ada Comstock program for nontraditional students at Smith College. I had just finished a program in theater at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where I graduated with a 3.9 GPA. I applied with excellent professor reviews, and with two additional glowing letters of recommendation, one from Jeanne Vaccarro, Smith alum and current Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Sexuality Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (then a professor of women’s studies at Hunter College, NYU and Rutgers); and one from Ezra Nepon, then the grassroots fundraising coordinator at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, where I had been a volunteer for five years.
In my essay, I indicated my wish to study with Len Berkman, the current Anne Hesseltine Hoyt Professor of Theatre at Smith, because I admired his scholarship in feminist theater, and had seen him speak at a production of Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play at Irondale Ensemble in Brooklyn, New York, where I live. I proposed several specific playwriting projects that I wanted to work on at Smith, and expressed admiration for their theatrical production facilities, which I had observed while on a campus visit. (They really are stunning.) I detailed my own experience in starting my own feminist theater collective, Theater Transgression, which at the time was working on producing a version of Antigone with an all-transgender cast (I played Eurydice), along with other experiences that had shaped my vision as a performing artist in New York. Since then, I was mentioned on The Huffington Post in a round-up of Twenty Transgender Artists You Should Know.
I encountered only minor snags of explicit gender trouble through my application process. I think that this is helped by the fact that my FAFSA lists me as female, and that all of my college records do, as well. The only thing that tipped them off bureaucratically to the fact that I am trans was my high school transcript, which cannot be changed or amended, as it is a non-computerized paper record. Fortunately, another recent Smith alum friend of mine who had worked in the admissions office (and who has since transitioned and now identifies as male, ironically) made some calls to advocate on my behalf, and my records were consolidated and I was granted the opportunity to go through the full admissions process. I did not mention being transgender during my interview.
Also, I will admit something here on Tumblr that I have never told anyone else before: in order to get the last of my application materials in before the deadline, I delivered them to Northhampton myself, via Amtrak from New York city, and stuffed them in the mailbox at the admissions office at like 10pm the night before the last day of application. There were no late busses back to New York that night, and I didn’t have the money for a hotel room, so I slept on the bench outside the station, in the snow. It was uncomfortable, sure, but I am tough — I’ve crashed in a lot of weird places before.
The reason I’m telling you this, though, is not to showcase my own failure to plan ahead (arguably a negative quality in a a college applicant, sure) but to show you how very much I wanted this. It was so important to me. I had been shuffled through large state schools my entire academic career up until that point, where you have to fight and scrape for everything: opportunity, resources, attention from faculty. Where there’s never enough money and everything is held together with duct tape and the arts are a laughable afterthought. In applying to Smith, what I had hoped for was a chance to shine. To be told that artistically, intellectually, that what I was doing mattered on some level. That as a feminist, and as a woman, that my work was important. Maybe those are immature reasons, but what can I say? I cared about this.
I was not accepted to the program.
One can only speculate about why this might be: the 2009-2010 fiscal year was a difficult one for Smith College, as their endowment had been significantly slashed due to the financial crisis, which meant that they accepted only half as many Ada Comstock applicants as they had the previous year. Certainly my rejection letter contained that old soft blow, “We received so many qualified applicants this year…” and I’m sure they did.
I have heard of trans women attending Smith, but only those who have gone through the application process in strictest stealth. Thus, though trans women have gone to Smith, I don’t think anyone at Smith knows about it. This is, of course, in laughable contrast to the vibrant and visible culture of transmasculinity on campus, which has received much media attention and is the butt of plenty of LBTQ community jokes (“Oh, she’s going to Smith to meet boiz.”)
I jumped through all the right hoops, and I still didn’t get in. Calliowong had a few bureaucratic loose ends out there, and didn’t even get a chance to apply. This is a problem. It’s a problem because trans women face a constant crisis of education, housing and jobs. It almost doesn’t need to be said that it is bizarre that a women’s college with a social justice mission continues to reject promising applicants because they happened to be extremely marginalized women.
I believe in trans women and I think that we are one of the world’s most neglected, undervalued resources. I believe that with support and encouragement, we can thrive and change the world. I only wish Smith College did, too.
Addendum: if any other trans women out there have had the experience of being denied admission to Smith, I’d like to hear from you — firstname.lastname@example.org.
So. It’s been a while since I’ve written you all, folks. As far as I know, this will be the last update letter I will write you.
I guess this is it, for now. There’s no chance I can go to Smith College, as the administration has returned my application without reading it not once—but two times…
I think the distinctly unfunny part about this is that Ms. Kelly’s experience belies that Dean Shaver’s earlier claims that there have been no trans woman applicants to Smith.
And, well, I know both these people, and I’m going to tell you i’m inclined to believe the now four trans women who i know or know of who have been rejected by the College more than Dean Shaver, who is at this point quite caught in a lie.