I have been reading Washington University law professor John D. Inazu‘s challenging and refreshing book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference (University of Chicago Press, 2016).
Here is a passage from the Introduction that really hit me between the eyes:
Wellesley College, an all-women’s school, now confronts internal challenges around its growing transgender student population. Even though Wellesley admits only women, a number of its current students have transitioned to men after matriculation. As a recent New York Times story asks: “What’s a women’s college to do? Trans students point out that they’re doing exactly what these schools encourage: breaking gender barriers, fulfilling their deepest yearnings and forging ahead even when society tries to hold them back. But yielding to their request to dilute the focus on women would undercut the identity of a women’s college.” One student reasoned: “I realized that if we excluded trans students, we’d be fighting on the wrong team. We’d be on the wrong side of history.” A recent graduate reached the opposite conclusion: “Sisterhood is why I chose to go to Wellesley.” The New York Times noted that this woman “asked not to be identified for fear she’d be denounced for her position.”
The last example exposes a particularly acute challenge: Wellesely cannot remain a women’s college whose identity in some ways rests on gender exclusivity and at the same time welcome transgender students who identify as men. It will have to choose between two competing views. But perhaps even more important than what decision Wellesley reaches is how it reaches that decision. Will Wellesley be able to choose its own institutional identity, or will the government impose a norm on the private school through law and regulation? Will other citizens tolerate Wellesley’s choice, or will they challenge its accreditation, boycott its events, and otherwise malign its existence? Will the process through which Wellesley reaches its decision be one of open engagement across deep difference, or will students, faculty, and administrators speak only under the cover of anonymity?
A lot to think about here. I am looking forward to finishing the book. Stay tuned.