Saint Mary’s College experienced some turbulence over the past year with the November news of an admissions policy allowing those who “consistently live and identify as women” to apply to the historical women’s college. The change was approved by the Board of Trustees in June, but the college was back in the headlines when President Katie Conboy met with Bishop Kevin Rhoades for a discussion and subsequently reversed the decision during Christmas break.
“The desire of Saint Mary’s College to show hospitality to people who identify as transgender is not the problem,” Rhoades wrote in an open letter to the college. “The problem is a Catholic woman’s college embracing a definition of woman that is not Catholic.”
Rhoades acknowledged the call for a Catholic college to be an inclusive place for higher education, but reminded the school that their Catholic identity should be their first priority.
Students at Saint Mary’s had mixed reactions to the decision to reverse the admissions policy. Some students stood in opposition with the reversal, some agreed with this decision and some were unsure what to think.
Freshman nursing student Nora Clark said the decision was surprising.
“I was a bit surprised that it had been reversed, but I kind of had seen it coming from the phrasing of her previous email,” she said. “But honestly after reading it and after reading the bishop’s letter to the school, I thought it made sense that it had been reversed because it didn’t sound like as much team thought or as many people went in to the initial decision as had the secondary decision.”
Clark said she agrees with the school’s standing policy “not because I have things against the LGBTQ+ community, but because I believe in the identity of our school as a Catholic women’s college. I think that some of the fundamental beliefs that our college was founded on are important for what we strive to uphold today, and the values that we’re promoting. I think that as a Catholic woman it makes more sense to me to keep [the standing policy].”
She said she believes the college’s Catholic identity and values of inclusion and diversity “go hand in hand, because Christians, Catholics [and] people in general should be welcoming and loving towards everyone.” She said that as a Catholic, she has been taught to be inclusive and supportive of others even when she disagrees with decisions. Clark said she believes Saint Mary’s is first and foremost a Catholic school, and said she feels that the campus is already an inclusive and welcoming place.
Other students argue that the college should have stuck with the admissions policy that allowed those identifying as female to apply. Freshman humanistic studies and creative writing major Daisy Marley said that upon learning of the policy’s reversal, she was disappointed but understood why it had happened.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Marley said of the reversal. “I know actually a lot of trans individuals on campus, they just don’t happen to be trans-femme. And so I think by excluding it, we’re narrowing what the definition of a woman is a little bit.”
She continued that she feels the definition of a woman in the standing policy “isn’t what being a woman is about at all, and we shouldn’t be reduced to our genitals.”
Marley said she believes the definition of a woman “is kind of up to everyone to decide.” She added that one thing she admires about the transgender and drag communities is their embracement of womanhood and femininity.
“As women we’re kind of supposed to be ashamed of who we are, and then to have these people come in and choose to be women and choose to dress this femininely I think is really cool,” Marley said.
Junior business administration major Claire Bettag, the president of Saint Mary's unofficial Turning Point USA, responded to those sentiments.
“What is a woman? An adult human female. That’s it," she said.
Bettag continued that she was “instantly relieved” upon hearing of the policy reversal, saying that when the initial policy came out she was “astonished … to think that President Conboy didn’t consider the safety of women in this decision is truly frightening. A true feminist would keep biological women’s spaces protected.”
In a broader scope, Bettag said, “I can’t comprehend that society has gotten to the point of empowering men to take away opportunities for success among women.”
Bettag said that in the future she hopes the college “steers away from their woke agenda. Its toxicity has divided the campus and left alumni and parents enraged. By going to Saint Mary’s, every student is well aware that they are attending a Catholic institution. This is Our Mother’s College.” She called for Saint Mary’s to “turn to the Catholic teaching and restore its messaging and values… the catechism of the Catholic Church needs to be followed and respected among administration, faculty and students.”