Barnard College Admits Trans Women In Updated Admissions Policy, Joining Several Other Women's Colleges
Women's colleges have historically served an important role in the fight for gender equality, and now many are continuing that legacy in the new millennium by adopting inclusive policies regarding trans students. The latest: Barnard College will now admit trans women, joining half a dozen of their sister institutions in updating their admissions policies. Hooray!
Barnard's new policy is similar to that of several other women's colleges, including Smith and Wellesley. It states that "Barnard will consider for admission those applicants who consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth," meaning trans women will be welcome to apply and attend. In addition, they state that "This admissions policy does not affect students who transition during their time at Barnard." In other words, students who were assigned female at birth and were admitted to Barnard, but who come out as trans while in school, won't be kicked out; the policy also says that if they do wish to transfer to another college once they no longer identify as women, Barnard will provide assistance.
The policy does not include those trans people who do not identify with any gender and other non-binary individuals. Indeed, the policy specifically states that "We will also continue to use gendered language that reflects our identity as a women’s college." This is the approach most of the women's colleges seem to be taking in updating their policies, so it's perhaps unsurprising that Barnard has taken it, as well.
The most prominent exception to this rule is Mount Hollyoke, which now admits trans women, trans men, non-binary people, and essentially anyone except for cisgender men.
Mount Hollyoke explains their perspective this way:
Mount Holyoke remains committed to its historic mission as a women’s college. Yet, we recognize that what it means to be a woman is not static. ... Just as early feminists argued that the reduction of women to their biological functions was a foundation for women’s oppression, we must acknowledge that gender identity is not reducible to the body. It is this positionality that biological and transwomen share, and it is this positionality that is relevant when women’s colleges open their gates for those aspiring to live, learn, and thrive within a community of women.
In this view, then, women-only colleges are not so much about providing a space specifically for women (defined narrowly or broadly), as they are about providing space for those whose gender identity is undervalued, stigmatized, or otherwise oppressed in society. And while this most definitely encompasses cis women, it also includes... well, just about anyone except for cis men. And thus women's colleges can become a site for expanding our understanding of gender.
However, it is also understandable that not every women's college would take this same approach. Although trans women should definitely be admitted to women's colleges — because trans women are women, full stop, end of sentence — choosing to admit those who do not identify as women is a more complicated question, one that goes to the heart of what it means to be a women's college.
Still, it's great to see more and more women's colleges including trans women as well as cis women. In their announcement, Barnard stressed that the new policy came after months of discussion, review of expert opinions, and feedback from the entire community. They write that, "On two main points, the responses were compelling and clear. There was no question that Barnard must reaffirm its mission as a college for women. And there was little debate that trans women should be eligible for admission to Barnard."
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