Disclaimer: I'm not trying to lead a question or push an agenda. I'm looking for serious answers that address the situation.

In the US at least, an educational institution that receives public funding cannot discriminate based on various protected classes for well played out reasons. However, colleges can opt to be a "Women's College" and refuse to accept cisgendered males. This actually only applies to three specific schools (Mississippi State University for Women, Douglass College of Rutgers University, and Texas Woman’s University). I believe there may also be a publicly funded military university that is homogeneously male, but I'm not sure. Under what ethical grounds was this determined to be an appropriate course of action, or what sorts of standpoints could defend this phenomenon?

Edit: As the first answer mentioned, there are many colleges that do indeed cater to specific groups, but they are all privately funded (to my knowledge) and the issue of "should we fund this as a society" is sidestepped by the liberty of the non-public organizations to act as they will. I don't deny either that there are great reasons for various colleges that cater specifically to women, racial minorities, or other groups to form safe spaces or otherwise provide a systemically lacking opportunity to those people. I also rephrased the question to keep it more on topic and hopefully stray less into legal-specific territory.

  • This is especially odd, because the majority of college graduates are no longer male, and the Virginia Military Institution was forced to create parallel-but-separate services for men and women. I think that despite the outcomes, it is still arguable that the coverage of women's rights is uneven, and colleges like this address the fact that while U.S. women in general are no longer dissuaded from education, on average, women in the backwaters of Mississippi or Texas may still be. I don't know what that says about Rutgers.
    – user9166
    Oct 16, 2014 at 20:04

1 Answer 1


They aren't at all ethically exempt, keeping in mind the important distinction between law and ethics.

Without digging deeply (since this isn't the "U.S. Law Forum"), I believe the legal system in the United States deals with cases like this in court. In other words, these colleges are not explicitly protected under law to simply admit and not admit whomever they please. If someone feels they have been discriminated against, they can sue. If they win their case, the college has to pay out damages but is still probably not bound to admit them, although likely in many cases they will then feel ethically and fiscally bound to do so since a precedent has been set, allowing for an endless stream of further suits.

This appears to be a bit of a timely topic. It seems from that article that in fact, the definition of "woman" in this instance is a grey area in U.S. law, so much so that various colleges have sought and received a religous exemption so that they cannot be held culpable for denying transgender women entrance.

this only makes me wonder why there aren't Native American, First Generation Immigrant or LGBT colleges that exist for the same goal, or rather why they can't legally exist in the first place.

You're begging the question. There are in fact Native American Colleges in the U.S. As for the other groups, I would imagine the issue is more fiscal than legal.

I think what I've already said applies equally well in light of your edit, but I'll flesh that out a bit.

In the US at least, an educational institution that receives public funding cannot discriminate based on various protected classes for well played out reasons.

If transgender people clearly constituted a protected class under U.S. law, then this would be cut and dried -- but of course this is not the case. Presumably over time they could become such, but it would require either executive fiat or else a consistent string of judicial precedents (and conversely, the chances of them ever becoming such could be dispelled by the same processes).

That answers the question of why a public funded college might consider itself to be legally exempt and act accordingly. It still does not make them ethically exempt, but presuming their own understanding of ethics accords with their actions, the most feasible argument [advocacy for the devil ->] is a probably a utilitarian one that you have more or less already outlined: For every transgender person made happy by allowing admittance, a disproportionate number of existing students will be made unhappy and feel betrayed in relation to what they feel the college is. So, in the interest of the happiness of the greatest number, it is best to keep transgender people out.

This is perhaps implicit in a quote from the aforementioned article:

“What it means to be a woman isn’t static,” says Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella, who announced the admissions policy change at the college’s convocation ceremony. “Early feminists argued that reducing women to their biological functions was a foundation of women’s oppression. We don’t want to fall back on that.”

Evidently their previous excuse was one based on biology -- the claim that transgender women aren't women. However, this led to an ethical conundrum that may be over the head of a good portion of undergrads (after all, this is to do with what they have come to learn, and not necessarily what they understand already). A conservative school administration (and corresponding members of government, since we are considering the question in relation to public schools) may then regard any change as too dramatic, which is the crux of the utilitarian argument. In the Holyoke case, evidently this was trumped by a deontological argument that favours admittance for the transgendered by saying the college already stands on the idea that womanhood is not determined by biology, and they would be hypocritical to pick and chose how to apply this stance.

Conversely, the religious colleges have made their own deontological argument based on their own definition of womanhood.

  • 1
    Additionally, there's Harvey Milk High School which is designed specifically as LGBT-focused. It doesn't exclude non-LGBT students, but was created as a safe space.
    – Roger
    Oct 16, 2014 at 17:22
  • I'm going to edit the question to reflect more clearly that a private college can admit however it wants. The defining issue is that a publicly funded college can discriminate in admissions. And yes, I apologize how much law, especially US specific law bleeds into this issue.
    – user10442
    Oct 16, 2014 at 17:24
  • Okay -- I've responded with my own edit at bottom. Oct 16, 2014 at 18:23

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