Barnard College finally opens its doors to transgender applicants

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Barnard College announced Thursday that it will, for the first time, consider applications from transgender students. Barnard is a women's college affiliated with Columbia University.

In a letter addressed to members of the Barnard community, Board of Trustees Chair Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald and college President Debora Spar wrote that the board of trustees decided yesterday to update their admissions policy. Here it is, in part:

… In furtherance of our mission, tradition and values as a women’s college, and in recognition of our changing world and evolving understanding of gender identity, Barnard will consider for admission those applicants who consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth.  We will also continue to use gendered language that reflects our identity as a women’s college.


The statement noted that students who transition during their time at the college won't be asked to leave:

This admissions policy does not affect students who transition during their time at Barnard. Once admitted, every student will receive the individualized support that is an essential part of the Barnard experience.


… but that maybe Barnard won't make sense for a student who transitions from male to female:

If, during a student’s time at Barnard, the student decides that Barnard, as a women’s college, no longer offers an appropriate educational environment, Barnard will offer guidance and resources to assist in making choices that are best for that student.

Back in May, Caleb Loschiavo (BC '15) described in Refinery29 the challenges he faced while transitioning at Barnard:

Barnard didn’t really know what to do with trans students, so I forged my own path in a lot of ways…  Sometimes, uncomfortable moments popped up where I hadn’t expected them. On the first day of my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class, the professor read the roster and called out my birth name. I just sat there in silence. I didn’t want to be outed in front of the entire class. That afternoon, I sent her what was maybe the most nervous email of my life, asking her to call me Caleb, and making sure she knew I hadn’t skipped class. After that, I drafted a form letter, explaining. I sent it to every professor a few days before every class, until the fall of senior year, when I was able to legally change my name.


Still, Caleb and others are pleased by today's news:


This is not a Caitlyn Jenner-inspired change of heart—Barnard has been considering updating their admissions policy for a year. The New York Times reported in December of 2014 that the school was in the process of reviewing its admission policy, which was ill-defined at the time. Per the Times:

[Barnard] currently considers applications from transgender students on a case-by-case basis, Ms. Spar wrote. It has a number of trans masculine students — those born with female characteristics who identify as male or neutral — but no trans women, said Ms. Kwong and several Barnard transgender students.


Barnard is not the first women's institution to open admission to trans students. It follows the likes of Mount Holyoke, Mills, Scripps, Smith, and Wellesley. And it's getting a (tiny) bit of heat for it:


Welcome to the 21st century, Barnard.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.