Opinion: Colleges should do more to slow down ‘fast thinking’

President and professor say the debate over transgender athletes illustrates a larger problem: jumping to partisan conclusions based on isolated incidents taken out of context.

Last week, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll reported that a majority of Americans oppose allowing transgender women and girls to compete against other women and girls in high school, college, and professional sports. At least 18 states have passed legislation to that effect, with more on the way.

And yet, less than 1 percent of Americans identify as transgender, and the number of cases in which the participation of transgender athletes has raised concerns is vanishingly small. Almost every news story — and there have been many — starts and ends with a single example, that of Lia Thomas, the University of Pennsylvania swimmer who competed for three years on the men’s team with only modest success, then won a national championship after transitioning and joining the women’s team.

Citing Thomas’s success, critics claim that transgender women athletes in general have an unfair advantage in size, muscle mass, bone density, and heart and lung capacity. This week FINA (the International Swimming Federation) banned trans athletes who have experienced male puberty from entering its women’s events, proposing instead a third (“open”) category that will allow them to compete. Transgender advocates respond that trans athletes have a right to compete on a team that aligns with their gender identity. They view the FINA policy as “discriminatory, harmful, unscientific,” and “the result of a moral panic because of Lia Thomas.”

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