Women’s college reverses admissions policy on biological men

In a historic decision, Saint Mary’s College (SMC) reversed a November policy extending admission to people who are not female but “​​who consistently live and identify as women.” But now, the SMC students who helped prompt this change claim systematic targeting and harassment by college administrators and other members of the SMC community. 

The November 2023 announcement that SMC would consider applications from males who identify as women sparked debate and outrage both online and on campus. Concerned alumnae, parents, and students quickly formed a Facebook discussion forum to facilitate updates, offer prayers, and invite others to join the cause against the policy. This group quickly gained over 800 members in the span of three weeks, and has now become a place for alumnae to receive news about Catholic identity at SMC. Its scope has grown to include class recommendations, updates on administrative policies, and happenings on campus. 

SMC students who opposed the policy described the threats, intimidation, and censorship they faced from their campus community in interviews with the Rover

Claire Bettag, a junior at SMC, explained that when the policy first was released, “a group of girls decided to go around the school and put up sticky notes with phrases that would represent how unhappy the students were with their decision. We also chalked up the sidewalks.” 

The next day, “Everything was taken down and washed off,” she continued. “We were accused of ‘hate speech’ and being ‘transphobic,’ but this is not the case. … They sent members from administration seated in the hallways of academic buildings trying to intimidate the women who were opposed to the policy.” 

Taylor Miske-Phillips, another student at SMC, echoed Bettag’s sentiments, describing the verbal harassment she faced after she started a change.org petition opposing the new policy. She explained, “I experienced a lot of people calling me nasty names, and when I brought it up to the Dean of Students, she just said they were practicing freedom of speech, but we were not allowed to reciprocate in that matter by any means.”

Miske-Phillips’ petition was then censored by change.org and removed from the site. As reported by the Washington Times, a change.org spokesperson stated, “Elements of this petition were identified as hate speech, and therefore, the petition was removed. While we want our platform to be used to campaign about any issue our users care about, this must be done in a way that is safe and does not incite hate.”

Because the public voicing of their opinion on the policy was restricted, Bettag and other students attempted to organize meetings to discuss the situation through the unofficial Turning Point USA chapter of SMC. Bettag told the Rover, “Dean of Students Gloria Jenkins threatened me and stated that I would go through the ‘conduct process’ if I decided to get together with these girls to discuss the policy. At the time of our meeting, she sent campus safety officers throughout all buildings trying to track down our meeting.”

In addition to the censorship faced by college officials, Bettag also described feeling unsafe on campus. She told the Rover that she learned “that there was a group of girls at Notre Dame who were planning on coming over to our campus to find out where we lived. We didn’t know what they were going to do with this information, but Macy and I feared for our safety.”

Macy Gunnell, an SMC sophomore, discovered the policy change, sparking the controversial decision’s reversal. She told the Rover, “Campus blew up. We’ve been getting a lot of hate for our opposition to it. One girl got racial slurs on her door for being conservative. Other people were getting death threats—a lot of really negative things, online especially.” 

She continued, “Unfortunately, because the school has a habit of silencing conservative voices, there are not a lot of people willing to speak up against it. We got a lot of backlash, and people started making really outrageous claims—that we were calling for the genocide of transgender people, saying really horrible things about how we were writing slurs. That is not true, not from us.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, issued a statement on the Catholic identity of the college in response to the initial policy change. He declared, “It is disappointing that I, as bishop of the diocese in which Saint Mary’s College is located, was not included or consulted on a matter of Catholic teaching.” He went on to note that “the desire of Saint Mary’s College to show hospitality to people who identify as transgender is not the problem. The problem is a Catholic woman’s college embracing a definition of woman that is not Catholic.” 

Continuing through January and February, SMC has introduced a series of listening sessions “to explore what it means to embrace our values as a Catholic, women’s college,” per a campus-wide email. 

The college’s decision to reverse their November policy was announced in a December 21 email from SMC President Katie Conboy and Board Chair Maureen Karantz Smith. The pair noted their regret that the controversy created a “sense of division in our campus community and among our extended alumnae family.” 

Nico Schmitz is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies from Pasadena, California. You can reach him at nschmit2@nd.edu

Lydia Poe, a sophomore studying management and international business, has discovered that there’s a patron saint for absolutely everything, including coffee, explosives, and procrastination. If you’re in need of assistance for an oddly specific situation, reach out to her at lpoe01@saintmarys.edu, and she’ll help you find the perfect heavenly ally.

Photo Credit: saintmarys.edu

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