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Barnard College Opens Its Doors to Transgender Women... But Not Trans Men

Barnard College Opens Its Doors to Transgender Women... But Not Trans Men


The decision, widely celebrated, still raises concerns for some over the status of nonbinary students.

Barnard College has formally changed its admission policy to be inclusive of trans women, becoming the U.S.'s eighth prominent women's college to do so within one year.

After months of discussion with the college community that included six "town halls" with students and staff, Barnard officials announced on Thursday that they will now accept applications from any students "who consistently live and identify as women," according to the Associated Press.

Barnard, like fellow Seven Sisters schools Smith College, Wellesley College, and Bryn Mawr College, will not accept applications from trans men, or nonbinary people who identify as "male." However, other women's colleges, including Mount Holyoke College, Simmons College, Scripps College, and Mills College, have decided to open their doors to all transgender people, stating that their acknowledgment of the fluidity of gender means including anyone assigned "female" at birth.

The overwhelming response from faculty and students alike is affirmation that trans women belong at Barnard, according to the AP. Barnard is also home to Jennifer Finney Boylan, the college's inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer, and openly trans educator, author, and GLAAD co-chair.

Although the inclusion was debated, board of trustees chairman Jolyne Caruso-Fitzgerald revealed in a campus-wide letter that the conclusion was "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," she said.

However, while the inclusion of trans women on paper is by all accounts a step in the right direction, concerns remain.

The language of "consistently liv[ing]" as a woman gave some trans advocates pause when a similar policy was announced by Wellesley College in March. "[It] seems carefully crafted to satisfy those of us who want to see Wellesley admit all women while leaving the college plenty of plausible deniability with which to reject trans women on the basis they they aren't 'living as women,'" trans male Wellesley alum Tim Chevalier explained to the Boston Globe at the time.

Meanwhile, some have pointed out that a policy that includes all trans students would cause less issues for trans women who were unable to changed the "male" legal gender marker on their application documents prior to applying to college. This is the very situation that brought national attention to Smith College in 2013, when trans woman Calliope Wong's application was rejected because she was unable to update her federal or Connecticut state ID to reflect her authentic gender.

Some have also expressed concern over the lack of nuance towards nonbinary students in Barnard's new policy, as well as those of Smith, Wellesley, and Bryn Mawr.

"There have always been and will always be nonbinary students and trans male students at Barnard simply due to the fact that many students realize they identify that way while attending Barnard," trans male Barnard junior Mark King explained to the AP. "I'm concerned that those students may not feel welcome or supported knowing that they would not have been permitted to attend the college, had they known their identity sooner."

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Mitch Kellaway