ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
Women's colleges in America are grappling with if and how they might change admissions policies to welcome transgender students. Some colleges, including Mount Holyoke, have formally changed policies to accept students who identify as a gender other than that assigned at birth. Mount Holyoke leaders say concepts of what it means to be a woman are not static. Other schools, like Wellesley College, say applicants to the school must identify themselves as women. But it's not that simple. Meet Alex Poon. He was born female, but identifies now as male. Alex graduated from Wellesley this past summer. I asked him what his experience was like there.
ALEX POON: In my opinion, I feel that, you know, Wellesley has a zero-tolerance policy for transphobia, you know, which makes Wellesley such a unique and special place and really a safe place for trans students like me, who are just, you know, there to learn and don't want to have their gender identity kind of thrown into the mix.
And there was this contest at the end of the - of your senior year and it's called Hoop Rolling. The story goes that the winner of the Hoop Rolling race is supposed to be very successful in the future. And when I won Hoop Rolling, my friends and students who are my class carried me on their shoulders and it was just so nice to feel so accepted by all my peers around me.
WESTERVELT: Alex, you were accepted by your fellow students, by your family. But when you went to the administration, do you feel your concerns were heard?
POON: In general, I'd say yes. I think something that's really been pushed in the past couple of years at Wellesley with the administration is changing the signage on the bathrooms, you know. Inherently, just looking at the ratio of male-bodied people and female-bodied people at Wellesley, there are many more female-bodied people. So it makes sense that there are more female bathrooms. And, you know, trans students - students like me - want to use the bathroom that says men on it, not the bathroom that says women or female on it with, like, the little girl in the dress.
And so a lot of students pushed to have the signage changed on some of the single stall bathrooms and a lot of the academic buildings and even in the residential buildings, you know, to say all gender bathroom or just bathroom. You know, it doesn't need to be gender specific to be more inclusive.
WESTERVELT: Would you like to see the college clarify and take a more firm position on the issue?
POON: I think that would be good. Maybe to at least put a statement about trans people. I think it's difficult when not a lot of announcements have been made about Wellesley's policy. I think that can cause a lot of rumors, a lot of confusion, a lot of anxiety.
WESTERVELT: Alex, my grandmother went to Wellesley and she graduated in the '30s. And I know she was - she was - cared deeply that this was a women's only college. And I think she might say, if she were alive today, I don't get this. What do you say to people that sort of say, you know, I hear you, but I don't understand it?
POON: I definitely understand that perspective, and I think that perspective is important to hear to current students of - especially the ones in my generation. When people say, you know, like, you don't belong. It's a women's only place. It's a women's college. It was intended for women. This is a women's only school. You're right, it's a difficult position to be put in. You know, on one hand, I was born female and I was definitely read as female, treated as female. I understand those experiences of being female.
So I do have some commonalities and some common shared experiences with the majority of the Wellesley student body. However, Wellesley is really asking this question right now - what does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century? Times are definitely changing. Times are definitely shifting, but Wellesley's core values, I feel like, have not changed.
WESTERVELT: Alex Poon, thanks for coming on the show.
POON: Of course. Thanks for having me.
WESTERVELT: By the way, we contacted Wellesley College. And in a statement they said they are talking with staff, faculty and students to explore the issue of gender fluidity with thoughtfulness and deliberation.
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