Last month, Barnard College made a momentous announcement: the school will now accept transgender women. According to the school’s Transgender Admission Policy, “Barnard will consider for admission those applicants who consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth. We will also continue to use gendered language that reflects our identity as a women’s college.”
Furthermore, “This admissions policy does not affect students who transition during their time at Barnard. Once admitted, every student will receive the individualized support that is an essential part of the Barnard experience.”
Barnard’s decision to begin admitting transgender women was the result of months-long conversations among the Board of Trustees, led by the Committee on Campus life. “As expected, a wide range of passionate and deeply held beliefs were discussed and debated. But 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.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Debora L. Spar, the president of Barnard, elaborated on her own position on the decision.
“When I first started hearing from trans students, I think as a human being, I couldn’t help but sympathize,” Spar said. “I think once you understand the human dimension of this, you want to do the right thing. The harder question then is, what is the right thing?”
Barnard is the most recent women’s university to conclude that admitting transgender women is the right thing to do. Bryn Mawr College, Mills College, Mount Holyoke College, and Simmons College were among the first schools to admit transgender women.
Policies regarding transgender women at women’s colleges vary from school to school. In the New York Times piece, Lynn Pasquerella, the president of Mount Holyoke, said she believes that anyone who has had the experience of being female, in whatever capacity, should have a place at the school. Other schools have more restrictions regarding their acceptance of transgender women. For example, Hollins University’s student handbook states that “the university considers sex reassignment to have occurred when an undergraduate student ‘self identifies’ as a male and initiates” medical and legal processes to transition from male to female. The handbook goes on to note that, “Recognizing the changing landscape as it pertains to individuals on the transgender spectrum, this policy will be reviewed on a regular basis.”
Indeed, we are living in a dynamic and fascinating time for the L.G.B.T. community. Between the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage and high-profile figures such as Ellen Page, Neil Patrick Harris, Laverne Cox, and Caitlyn Jenner making headlines for sharing their stories with the public, America may be becoming more accepting of that community in general. And thanks to Barnard College and similar women’s schools, it seems that American higher education is becoming more accepting of transgender women in particular.