Ninotska Love, born a man, will be attending Wellesley College in Massachusetts
A 28-year-old woman has become one of the first transgender students to attend the world-famous Wellesley College after a 147-year-old rule was changed.
Ninotska Love, who was born a man, would have been barred from attending the Massachusetts school as recently as last year.
But she has left her home in New York and will this week break the mold by becoming one of the first people to have changed gender to take classes at Wellesley, just as Hilary Clinton did some 50 years ago.
Love said: ‘For me to be accepted to one of the best colleges for women in the nation, it is a big validation of the person that I have become.
‘At first I couldn’t believe it,’ said Love, 28, who was born in Ecuador but fled to the US in 2009 after being kidnapped and threatened because of her gender identity.
‘I’m so thankful to be here.’
Love is considering a major in women’s and gender studies and later hopes to become a civil rights lawyer for LGBT students and immigrants.
It’s a goal shaped by her own past – Love says she illegally entered Texas from Mexico before being granted asylum because of her persecution in Ecuador.
Her first job in the US was cleaning dorms at a college in North Carolina.
She later moved to New York City and started classes at LaGuardia Community College, where she earned academic honors and gained support from the Kaplan Educational Foundation, which helps low-income and minority students transfer to four-year universities.
Love was accepted to a dozen colleges but says Wellesley was always her top choice.
‘I knew that it would be a challenge; I knew that it would be difficult,’ she said, ‘but at the same time I knew that I can make a difference – and I knew that I can show to other people that we transgender women are humans, too.’
Ninotska Love, who has been accepted at Wellesley College, opens the door to her dorm room at the school in Wellesley
The groundbreaking transgender woman unloads her goods in her dorm at the world-famous school
Her arrival on campus reflects a quiet but momentous shift that’s taking place at a wave of women’s colleges that have begun allowing trans women.
But even as many schools embrace shifting views on gender, some have been reluctant to change amid lingering differences over the role of women’s colleges.
Since 2014, at least eight women’s colleges have moved to allow trans women, starting with Mills College in Oakland, California and in 2015 Smith, Bryn Mawr and Barnard colleges made the change.
Advocates say others have likely done so without advertising it.
Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said: ‘I think it’s a step forward, one that’s long overdue.
‘If they say they’re women, then saying that they can’t attend is denying their identities and marginalizing them.’
The exact number of trans women are attending women’s colleges remains unknown.
Many schools that now accept them won’t say how many they enroll, if any, citing privacy concerns.
Schools including Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges say they don’t track the gender identities of their students.
Chicora Martin, vice president of student life and dean of students at Mills College, said some fear backlash from alumni or donors who don’t support the change, and they want to protect students from outside scrutiny.
At Mills, eight percent of more than 700 undergraduates identify as trans women.
Ninotska Love peers out of the window at her dorm having left New York to study at Wellesley
Love said: ‘For me to be accepted to one of the best colleges for women in the nation, it is a big validation of the person that I have become’
Martin said: ‘I think that’s something they don’t want to draw to their students.
‘Ultimately the attention is drawn to them, and that can be negative attention.’
Colleges of all types have faced increasing pressure to meet the needs of trans men and women, who make up an estimated 0.7 percent of the nation’s youths.
Some schools have responded by offering gender-neutral bathrooms and medical insurance that covers hormone treatments, or by letting students pick their gender pronouns .
Still, alumnae of some women’s colleges have opposed the admissions change, saying it undermines the institutional mission to empower women.
Leaders at some schools counter that women’s colleges were founded to educate those who have been marginalized because of their gender.
‘That’s always been the historic role of women’s colleges,’ Martin said.
‘The definition of gender and gender identity has broadened, and yet it’s still very much that mission.’
Some schools have resisted widening their gender policies.
Wellesley leaders said that they don’t comment on the gender identities of specific students but that they welcome Love to the school’s ‘community of outstanding women’
At Hollins University, a private school of about 800 in Virginia, trans women can be accepted only if they have completed a legal and surgical transition from male to female, which legally entitles them to consideration anyway.
Hollins spokesman Jeff Hodges said the policy ‘supports how the university defines its mission as an undergraduate institution of higher learning for women.’
At Wellesley, Love said she knows of at least one other trans woman starting this week.
Wellesley leaders said that they don’t comment on the gender identities of specific students but that they welcome Love to the school’s ‘community of outstanding women’.
Sofiya Cabalquinto, a college spokeswoman, said in a statement: ‘As the leading liberal arts college for women, Wellesley’s mission is to educate women who will make a difference in the world – and those women represent diversity in every dimension.’