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Tuesday
Mar262013

All-Female College Returns Transgender Woman's Application

Courtesy Calliope Wong(NEW YORK) -- Calliope Wong, a high school senior from Connecticut, has twice sent an application to the prestigious all-female Smith College, but her papers have been returned without even an official admission review.

It's not because of her grades or SAT scores, but because of her self-identity as a transgender female.

Wong, 17, was born male, which her family indicated on her federal application for financial aid in order to coincide with her Social Security number.  But her admission materials describe her as female.

Smith has told her it cannot process her admission application as a female because the gender markers on her forms conflict.

Wong said the college is discriminating against her.  The college says it's about paperwork.

"Someone whose paperwork consistently reflects female identity will be considered for admission," said Laurie Fenlason, Smith's vice president for public affairs.

She said Wong is free to reapply.

Smith does not "decide who is a woman," rather, with regard to admission, it uses information provided by the applicant, according to the policy statement posted on the college's website.

"Like most women's colleges, Smith expects that, to be eligible for review, a student's application and supporting documentation (transcripts, recommendations, etc.) will reflect her status as a woman," the policy states.

Wong's case and more open attitudes toward those who are transgender reflects a growing dilemma for single-sex institutions like Smith College.

"Smith is very committed to being a woman's college," said one professor in the Smith program for the study of women and gender who wanted to remain anonymous.  "But what does that mean when we talk transgender?

"Smith is on the cutting edge, challenging gender roles and accepting lesbian women," she said.  "Compared to the broader world, Smith tends to be out front.  But the college is struggling to some degree on how to balance being a women's college and being inclusive."

Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Wong's transition from male to female has been "an ongoing and lifelong process," she told ABC News.  For the past two years, she has been presenting as female.

"From the beginning, I was attracted to Smith as a college for 'iron women,' women who had the willpower and knowledge to effect real change in society," Wong said in an email.  "As a third-wave feminist, I definitely saw Smith as a place for the empowerment of visionary, vocal and practical women who worked to close the gap between ideal and reality."

Wong said she has received two letters since January from the college.  The latest one, dated March 5, says her gender status is not "consistently reflected" in the application materials.

She said she had hoped to enroll in gender studies as well as English and writing classes at the Northampton, Mass., school, a former "Seven Sister," a group of historically women's colleges in the Northeast.

"I will be taking these plans to another college or university come the fall," she said.

Wong has not said where else she applied.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio