Satoko Oyama, a professor of social welfare at the Women’s University of Japan, was surprised by the results of a survey of university staff regarding a proposal to admit transgender women.
The majority of respondents, about half, said they believed the proposal was feasible. About a quarter, however, said they didn’t think it was feasible. Another quarter said they didn’t know if it was doable or not.
Concerns were raised in free-text responses, which said, for example, “I’m not opposed, but I don’t think we’re ready.”
An internal panel, which was arranging to begin admitting transgender students to JWU beginning in fiscal year 2021, had no choice but to return to square one after reviewing the survey results in January 2020.
JWU began discussing the issue in 2015 after the university-affiliated high school received a request from the guardian of a transgender girl.
Officials then concluded that the time was not right to admit the girl, but discussions continued within the university.
JWU is among a number of women’s universities in Japan that are considering admitting transgender female students, who do not identify with the gender they were born into.
JWU officials, who have decided to begin accepting transgender women from fiscal year 2024, said discussions on the issue have led them to revisit the issue of the importance of a women’s university.
‘WOMEN’ NOT ALL HOMOGENOUS
Towards the end of fiscal year 2018, JWU’s board of trustees was advancing discussions toward the goal of accepting transgender women beginning in fiscal year 2020 under the idea that the university should be reorganized to allow various women to study together.
The planned start date, however, was pushed back a year at that time because some university staff said they didn’t think the time was right in the January 2020 survey. with the staff.
The investigation showed that the concerns ran deeper than Oyama had anticipated.
“I felt that, given the state of things, pushing the proposal through was not the right thing to do,” she said.
Some female students choose to attend a university for women because they find it difficult to live by traditional gender norms. Others do it because they are afraid of men. The environment that allows these students to do so could be compromised when transgender students are admitted, some skeptics said.
Oyama and his colleagues therefore decided to focus on dialogue. They have set up an internal email hotline dedicated to diversity issues. They also worked with gender advisers to offer interviews to students who requested them.
University officials have also tried to gradually ease student anxiety, in part by featuring real-life transgender testimonies.
And they announced in June 2020 that the university was allowing transgender students to take entrance exams beginning with admissions in fiscal year 2024.
An internal project to promote diversity has also been set up by interested students, who have started to organize, among other things, events on the theme of diversity.
“The process made me recognize once again that gender is so diverse and realize that ‘women’, as such, are never homogenous,” Oyama said.
She also felt that once again there is a question as to why universities for women should still exist in our time, when gender diversity is widely recognized and larger percentages of women pursue their studies in universities, added the teacher.
JWU President Satoko Shinohara said, “It is an undeniable fact that women, including transgender women, are oppressed in Japanese society today. Universities for women have an unwavering importance as an asylum against this sense of oppression.
Ochanomizu University in 2018 was the first women’s university in Japan to announce that it would admit transgender students. Nara Women’s University and Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University followed suit.
At the start of this fiscal year, Notre Dame Seishin University, which is also for women, said it would accept transgender women starting in fiscal year 2023.
Discussions are also underway in women’s universities which have not yet decided to admit transgender female students.
Tsuda University set up a dedicated panel in 2017 and organized lecture sessions, including one where transgender people were invited to speak, and training sessions for staff.
“We could end up hurting transgender students, even if we were to admit them, as long as our understanding of gender diversity remains superficial,” said Haruto Saito, general secretary of Tsuda University. “It is essential to deepen the understanding with the university while developing currently available programs and equipment.”
Tokyo Women’s Christian University has been continuously holding study sessions for students since fiscal 2018.
Mayumi Karasawa, a professor of psychology at TWCU, said her university has not set any date on the issue of transgender admission, including a deadline for making a decision, but said she realizes that interest in gender issues was growing among students.
ADMISSION MAY BE A SUPPORT MESSAGE
“The announcement by a women’s university that it will accept transgender students not only expands academic options for the target population, but also sends the encouraging message that the university is their ally,” said Minori Tokieda, a transgender woman. who heads “Rainbow Tokyo Kita-ku”, a civil defense group.
She continued, “An opportunity to study in a similar environment, where you can stay in comfortable peace of mind, gives you more self-esteem and makes it easier for you to plan your own future. It will also provide an opportunity for non-transgender students to learn more about the diversity in their immediate environment. »