Women's Colleges Address Transgender Applicants

By BTL Staff

BOSTON - Women's colleges are revisiting policies around enrolling transgender students as higher education institutions demonstrate varying degrees of acceptance for the changing society.

Mills College in Oakland, Calif. recently became the first U.S. women's college 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." The change will take effect January of 2015.

Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. followed with a similar announcement last week.

"What it means to be a woman isn't static," said Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella, who the AP reports 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."

Administrators at other prominent women's college have acted similarly. Student activists have been steadily pushing for colleges to be more gender neutral inclusive by changing bathroom policies. Some schools have amended applications to allow for a transgender option, or a third gender to be checked off by students, giving them the option to discuss gender identity in a short essay.

Other institutions do not want to adapt to gender inclusivity and want to place limits on where the third gender or the transgender students live on campus, which bathrooms they can use and what sports they can play.

Here in Michigan, Christian college Spring Arbor University joins Simpson University and George Fox University in operating under a religious exemption from the 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, the AP reports.

"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."

Policies are shifting and minds are changing but college administrations still have the final say. Alumnae and other women have come out in support of allowing transgender students to apply to the all women colleges including Holyoke College and they are confident that the 47 women's colleges in the U.S. and Canada will eventually drop formal admission policies on transgender students.


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