More women’s colleges address transgender applicants

Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.

Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.

Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.

Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass.

BOSTON — Women’s colleges are revisiting policies around enrolling transgender students as institutions of higher learning – single-sex, coed and those with religious affiliations – demonstrate varying degrees of acceptance for changing norms.

Mills College in Oakland, California, recently became the first women’s college in the U.S. to declare it would accept undergraduate applications from “self-identified women” and people “assigned female at birth who do not fit into the gender binary,” effective the semester that starts January 2015.

Colleges revisiting transgender student enrollment

The Associated Press


A women’s college in western Massachusetts, Smith recently said it is excluding financial aid documents from the list of materials it uses to affirm an applicant’s gender identity. Now, only the application and official supporting documents are part of that review. Officials say they are weighing further changes. Smith alumni include Julia Child and two recent first ladies.


Wellesley, a women’s college outside Boston whose alumni include Hillary Rodham Clinton, says it will hold lectures, discussions and presentations this academic year on “what it means to be a women’s college at a time when definitions of gender are expanding.”


Barnard, in New York, says it will hold similar campus conversations about transgender students at women’s colleges. Officials say that in the meantime it, like some other women’s colleges, will be reviewing transgender applications on a case-by-case basis.


North Carolina‘s Duke has added an options question to its application meant to encourage applicants – in up to 250 words – to discuss their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Iowa allows applicants to select “transgender” as a third option in its gender question. It also asks an optional question about sexual orientation.

Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, followed with a similar announcement last week. Administrators at other prominent women’s colleges also are weighing changes.

The discussions are, in part, an acknowledgment that thoughts on gender are evolving. Student activists have been steadily pushing for colleges to make changes, and some schools have altered applications to allow applicants to select “transgender” as a third option for gender or given them the option to discuss their gender identity in a short essay.

“What it means to be a woman isn’t static,” says Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella, who announced the admissions policy change at the college’s convocation ceremony. “Early feminists argued that reducing women to their biological functions was a foundation of women’s oppression. We don’t want to fall back on that.”

Other institutions, however, want to place limits on those students once they arrive on campus, including what sports they can play, which bathrooms they can use and where they can live.

Simpson University, Spring Arbor University and George Fox University are among the Christian colleges that have recently sought and received a religious exemption from Title IX, the federal law banning gender-based discrimination in education.

Pasquerella says her college’s decision represents a counterpoint of sorts to those actions.

“It’s part of a national conversation,” she said. “When you have Time magazine with (transgender actress) Laverne Cox on the cover and The New York Times running articles on transgender issues almost every week, it’s part of mainstream discourse.”

But even within Mount Holyoke’s extended community, the policy shifts have not been fully embraced. Some alumnae voiced their displeasure on the college’s Facebook page following the announcement.

“Mount Holyoke is a women’s college, and it should admit women. Period. Full stop,” wrote Pamela Adkins, a Tampa, Florida, resident who graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1979.

In a follow up email, she said: “There are plenty of other places for people who are not women to go, and they should go there. Don’t negate the reasons Mount Holyoke was founded and for what it has been known since 1837: providing a superlative college education – for women.”

Pasquerella acknowledged the detractors, but she said …

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