Bryn Mawr College this week became the fourth U.S. women's university to clarify its admissions stance toward transgender students, joining Simmons College, Mount Holyoke College, and Mills College in striving to be proactively inclusive.
In a February 9 campus-wide email, college president Kim Cassidy announced that all trans students will be allowed to enroll at Bryn Mawr. The decision emerged from a meeting with the university's board of trustees after "months of study and consultation" and a desire to affirm the school's mission to "educate women to be future leaders," according to a statement.
The decision was also influenced by the board's "awareness that gender is fluid and that traditional notions of gender identity and expression can be limiting," according to Cassidy's letter.
The college will now accept applications from trans women and trans feminine nonbinary people, as well as anyone assigned "female" at birth, including trans men and trans masculine nonbinary people. The choice to include trans masculine people — a group that does not neatly fit into the college's stated mission to "educate women" — appears not to be a statement that trans men are actually female, but an attempt to validate the various iterations of gender identity which potential applications may embody.
Among the other traditional "Seven Sisters" schools — which also include Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Wellesley College, Radcliffe College, and Vassar College — three now remain vague in their stances towards trans female applicants, as do 31 of the U.S.'s other single-sex universities. Vassar and Radcliffe (which merged with Harvard in 1972) are now co-educational institutions.
Smith College, in particular, has come under criticism since 2013, gaining national attention for denying an application from trans student Calliope Wong because she was not legally recognized as female in her home state of Connecticut.
After a Change.org petition gathered 4,000 signatures in support of Wong, Smith's dean of admissions, Debra Shaver, announced that a committee would begin meeting in September 2 to discuss the needs of prospective trans students. In the meantime, Smith officials say they have temporarily stopped rejecting applications from trans women.
Meanwhile, a recent New York Times piece has drawn attention to Wellesley College's continued resistance to admitting trans women, with many trans advocates, including trans men, arguing for the value of maintaining "women-only" institutions, while noting a percieved hypocrisy in schools that refuse admittance to trans people who identify as male prior to applying — but still allow trans men who transition partway through college to remain enrolled.
Seemingly cognizant of such debates, Cassidy states in her letter: " We recognize that students may express new gender identities while at Bryn Mawr and beyond. Such students may worry that the College will no longer value them if those explorations take them on a different gender pathway. The board's decision affirms our commitment to all of our current and future students."