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Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Rethinking Gender in College Admissions
Though women's colleges have been around in the U.S. for close to a hundred years, it was not until the 1960s that their function began to evolve. The earliest women's' colleges, established in the mid-19th century, were designed to simply give women access to education in a world that still believed a woman's place was in the home. Many universities would not admit women. It was well-accepted that the rigors of education was literally bad for women's health.

By the mid-twentieth century, there were over 200 women's colleges in the U.S. The sociopolitical upheaval of the 1960s ushered in by the peace and civil rights movement also moved feminism center stage. Women's colleges thus became hotbeds of political activism as the country pushed for equal rights for women.

Federal law allows universities to discriminate on the base of sex. This is how women's colleges have been able to historically decline admission to men. However, a growing societal awareness of nonconforming gender identities is calling some of these policies into question. The women's colleges (which have dwindled to around 40 in number) are at the forefront of this examination.

Some colleges are considering admission to students who self-identify as female, even if they are biologically male. Others, such as Scripps in Southern California, have begun admitting all candidates who are female on their birth certificates, even if they later transition into transgender males.

The changes are raising a different kind of issue regarding transgender students who already suffer grave discrimination at co-ed colleges. It is forcing a discussion of sex versus gender. Whether or not a person is born female, if she chooses to identify as such, she continues to face discrimination in a modern-day patriarchal society. This is a tough pill to swallow, especially at the same colleges that were designed to create outposts for female empowerment.

One thing is for certain-the fact that the discussion is even occurring is a reflection of society's progress in evaluating gender identity. The road may still be long, but once again, the women's colleges are leading the charge.

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