This Elite Women’s College Will Admit Trans Students Starting Next Fall

by JR Thorpe
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The struggle for trans women to be accepted by the women's movement, and by all-female spaces in general, has been well-documented. From transphobic "bathroom bills" to trans-exclusionary comments from famed feminists like Germaine Greer, trans women can sometimes feel like it's more of a 'cis-terhood' than a sisterhood. One venue for these discussions in particular has been in education, especially when it comes to inclusivity at all-female schools and universities.

This week, Spelman College, a historically Black women's college in Atlanta, took a major step towards inclusivity when it announced that the college would accept trans students for the 2018 school year. It's a brave new step not just for trans women, but particularly for trans women of color, who are among the most vulnerable populations in the entire LGBTQ community in America.

Spelman College's President Mary Schmidt Campbell sent out a statement to students on Sept. 5 announcing the shift in policy:

Spelman College, a Historically Black College whose mission is to serve high-achieving black women, will consider for admission women students including students who consistently live and self-identify as women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth. Spelman does not admit male students, including students who self-identify and live consistently as men, regardless of gender assignment at birth. If a woman is admitted and transitions to male while a student at Spelman, the college will permit that student to continue to matriculate at and graduate from Spelman.

This is, for Black transgender women in the United States who aim high and want the broadest range of educational options — and an educational environment that celebrates and prioritizes women — a big step forward.

Why The Fight For Trans Inclusion In All-Female Colleges Is A Big Deal

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Spelman College, founded in 1881, isn't the only all-female college opening its doors to transgender students. This year, Wellesley will admit transgender students for the first time, including Ninotska Love, an Ecuadorian who fled to the United States in 2009 after violent transphobic harassment in her own country. “For me to be accepted to one of the best colleges for women in the nation, it is a big validation of the person that I have become," she told the Associated Press. Smith College began to accept transgender women in 2015, as did Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Mills College, and Mount Holyoke is open to transgender admissions as well.

This is a big deal. For one, transgender women face large amounts of violence and harassment; in 2009, 11 percent of all reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in the United States were perpetrated against trans women. And transgender college students are especially vulnerable. A 2017 survey of 678 trans college students by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that they're often greatly concerned with financial affordability, that a whopping 74.6 percent of them had sought counseling at college, and that the vast majority reported a huge need for social support and aid from their institutions. All-female environments may not be totally protective and supportive (anybody can be transphobic, including women), but by creating an inclusive space that accepts their gender identity unquestioningly, and training staff on how to deal with issues that affect transgender people, all-female colleges in the United States are giving young transgender women a safer place to exist and learn.

The point is even clearer when it comes to transgender women of color, who, as Human Rights Watch points out, are the disproportionate targets of transphobic violence: 19 transgender women of color in the United States have been murdered in 2017 alone. Spelman College is the first all-female HBCU to invite trans women to enter its doors, and in doing so it's helping members of its community who need safe spaces very badly.

Discrimination in education is a familiar phenomenon for many transgender people, from restricted access to bullying and harassment. And that educational experience can contribute to serious life issues, from mental health problems to drop-out rates and lower employability. While it's important to point out that transgender students are also welcome in co-ed colleges across the United States, and that many female-only colleges, like Spelman, also allow transgender men to transition from female to male while they're students, the particular difficulties of transgender women and the potential afforded them by all-female college opportunities are significant.

Spelman is doing a brilliant thing for young Black trans women who just want to live, and learn, as women in an all-female community, a privilege that's been enjoyed by the brightest of America's Black women for over 100 years. The decision to admit trans women is an important move for inclusivity, and for feminism as a whole.