Barnard Joins Growing List of Women’s Colleges That Welcome Transgender Applicants

Barnard College announced on Thursday that it would join the fast-growing number of women’s colleges with clarified admissions policies for transgender students.

Barnard’s Board of Trustees voted on Wednesday in a closed meeting to approve the changes, which will take effect for students applying for admission in the fall of 2016. The college’s policy now says it welcomes applications from transgender women — students who are born male and transition to female. Barnard will not admit students who were born female and identify as male when they apply, but female students who transition to male during their time at Barnard will not be affected by the policy.

Barnard acted after the college’s administration and board spent several months exploring the policy shift with people on the campus and with alumnae, holding town-hall meetings and spearheading a survey that drew more than 900 responses.

“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,” Debora Spar, Barnard’s president, and Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, the board’s chair, said in a joint letter on Thursday.

Over the past year, a handful of women’s colleges have revisited their admissions approaches to become more conscious of fluid interpretations of gender. Smith College came under fire in 2013 for not reviewing the application of a transgender woman whose financial-aid application identified her as a male.

Barnard’s policy clarification is similar to the one that Smith adopted in May. Mills College, which became one of the first women’s colleges to deal with the issue, welcomes applicants who identify as women or who were assigned the female sex at birth but “do not fit into the gender binary.” Mount Holyoke College now admits students who were born female or who identify as women.

“Certain issues just hit the zeitgeist at a certain point in time,” Ms. Spar told the Associated Press last week.

Jody L. Herman, a scholar of public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles’s Williams Institute, which focuses on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, told The Chronicle she expects awareness of transgender issues at women’s colleges to continue growing.

“It comes to an interesting conflict when you have a school that is specified for one particular gender and that school hasn’t had a policy on how to process applications for trans students,” Ms. Herman said. “But schools are becoming more aware of it.”

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