The last paragraph of the College’s news release about the class of 2020 is so filled with fascinating facts that we need four days to go through it. Today is Day 2.

Of the 552 incoming students, 267 identify as men, 251 as women. Two identify as trans or transgender, and one identifies as non-binary. Thirty-one students did not respond to an optional question about gender identity (but did answer a required binary question that appears on the Common Application).

That sure is confusing! Can someone provide the details for parsing this?

First, I think that the Common Ap has a question about “gender at birth” which is required. If so, it would be useful for the College to report that data in the news release. Mary Detloff kindly responded to my question with the answer: female (266) and male (286).

There has been an interesting trend in gender over the last few years. A few years ago, there were more females than males among first years. In 2012 it was it was 291/256! At the time, I attributed this to either a) more competitive female than male applicants and b) a desire for the resident population to be 50/50 requiring more female students since women were (are?) more likely to study abroad. But that trend changed last year, when the split was 270/281.

There are lots of possible causes for this. First, random variation. Second, perhaps women are more likely to take gap years than they used to be, leading to a greater “melt” among female first years than was historically the case. Third, the college making an affirmative choice, perhaps because men are more likely to drop-out/transfer, so you need to start with more men in order to have a graduating class with a 50/50 split. Other possibilities?

Second, can someone provide the details of the College’s questions, and how have they changed in the last few years? Future historians will thank you! According to Inside Higher Ed:

The last year has seen many more colleges let applicants indicate that they are transgender, and — in what may be a first — Williams College included the data in its press release on the incoming class. … A spokeswoman for the college said that officials there did not know of other colleges that have included this information in press releases, but that the goal was to be inclusive.

Inclusiveness is fine, but what is Williams going to do when it files the Common Data Set in two months? It has (I think) no option other than to abide by the requirement that data be provided for men and for women. There are no other gender options. So, either Williams classifies as “female” students who told Williams they were transgender — presumably because that was the gender at birth they gave to the Common Ap — or Williams doesn’t include them at all in the Common Data Set (which would probably cause the submission to fail because of data quality checks). Tough question! Perhaps the statistically sophisticated approach would involve treating gender as missing data and using multiple imputation . . .

Third, spare a thought for our friends in Institutional Research: Courtney Wade and James Cart. What a hassle it will to deal with this complexity in future research! For example, suppose Adam Falk wants to update his claim:

And while women students and faculty are well represented throughout most of our curriculum, there remain fields such as physics and computer science where the numbers of women, both nationally and at Williams, do not reflect our nation’s distribution of talent or potential interest.

What definition of “women” should be used? Not an easy question!

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