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BRIDGES: Gender Identity in SMA Admissions

March 24, 2017

As conversations about gender identity develop within the public sphere, SMA students have been curious—and at times concerned—to know how our traditionally all-girls institution will respond. Last month, the Ms. Print sat down with Ms. Foran to discuss SMA’s outlook on topics of gender identity and gender expression, in addition to the school’s vision for moving forward.

While the question of SMA’s future position is by no means a new one, this year marks the school’s first major push to form a stance. This fall, the administration established a temporary body called the Gender Identity Task Force to help gather information from multiple perspectives, with the ultimate goal of establishing a plan for how to address gender identity in admissions in the future. The “force” includes Ms. Foran as the administrative liaison, two faculty members, a Sister of the Holy Names and former SMA principal, a physician and medical ethicist who is the parent of a former student, and two alums; some of its members are connected to the LGBTQA+ community. They meet every two weeks to review resources and hear from speakers, discussing various aspects of an institutional position on gender identity, from ethics to sports to any legal considerations.

The task force will dissolve in June, though it does not plan to set a definitive policy before then — its aim is to learn more about gender identity beyond the traditional perspective to provide SMA with a good foundation and understanding when it comes to admitting prospective students and supporting current ones. By the end of the school year, the task force will compile a set of guidelines that will aid the administration in making admission decisions when gender identity is involved, though the school will handle each decision case-by-case.

Showing us a two-inch binder full of resources on gender identity, Ms. Foran explained that even last year she would have had a different understanding of the situation. But throughout the past months, SMA has been working to learn about the gender spectrum and how it coincides with our Catholic identity; for example, the faculty had an in-service day dedicated to learning about pronouns and gender expression. Ms. Foran reminded us of the entire forum dedicated to discussing LGBTQA+ issues held at Central Catholic last year and the Holy Names Sisters’ history of social justice and cultural openness. Inclusivity is part of SMA’s mission, she said, not at odds with it. And with the climate of Portland growing more accepting of the LGBTQA+ community, this isn’t something the school could hide from even if it wanted.

SMA isn’t alone in this, either. In fact, the school is exploring this in partnership with the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools and other Holy Names schools around the country.

As for whether SMA will ever become co-ed, Ms. Foran said that’s one thing we should not expect. The school was formed as a response to a culture that prioritized the education of cisgender men, and it does not plan to change its own priorities in that regard.

While this should not mark the end of discussions of gender identity at this gender-specific school, we hope that this progress in acceptance of change and nuance will lead to a more inclusive future, moving forward.

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