In search of Barnard’s trans* student policy

Posted by: Katherine Whatley 1 year, 3 months ago


Changing ID documentation can be an ordeal for Barnard students | Photo credit /

Earlier this year, a Blue and White article discussed the difficulties of transgender students at Columbia. Though the author is a Columbia College student, many of the experiences he shared reflected the larger struggles of trans and non-gender conforming individuals at college campuses. However, not all students face the same problems, and my alma mater, Barnard, occupies a unique place in the effort for trans students to gain acceptance and recognition by their colleges.

As the transgender rights movement gains speed and becomes more and more present in collegiate life, women's colleges, including Barnard, have been asked to change their admissions process to reflect a new understanding about trans men and women.

Currently, women’s colleges have varying degrees of openness towards trans students. Smith College was in the news recently for not accepting a trans woman last year. At that time, the prospective student was openly trans, but had not changed all her documentation to reflect her new gender identity. Student activists claim that most trans high school students cannot fulfill Smith’s paperwork requirements.

In fact, according to Lauren Malotra-Gaudet, President of Q, Barnard’s Queer student group, on top of the costs of changing paperwork being prohibitive for many high school students, not all states will allow people to change their sex on documentation until they have had sexual reassignment surgery, which is not something that all trans people want. With these difficulties in mind, Mill's College, in California, recently became the first women's college to accept trans and gender fluid students, regardless of paperwork or official documentation.

No "formal policy"

So what about Barnard? Unlike Smith and Mill’s College, but similar to Bryn Mawr, Barnard does not specifically address trans students on their website, and there is no mention of trans student application policies.

When doing research for this article, it was not even clear whom to ask about trans student acceptance policy. After emailing a number of different administration offices on campus, including Well Woman and Admissions, I finally received a response from Alyssa Vine, Director of Media Relations, with a quote from Dean Avis Hinkson, Dean of the College on the requirements for trans students to be accepted.

As a women's college, Barnard has never had a formal policy on transgender students. Each application is reviewed individually on a case-by-case basis. Transgender students at women's colleges is a topic of much discussion nationally and among our senior leadership team, and we are looking forward to convening more conversations that help our community engage with these important issues.

A few weeks later, after emailing a number of other offices to try to find out if any out trans women have been accepted at Barnard, Vine emailed me again stating:

I understand that you'd reached out to Admissions and Well Woman with questions about transgender applicants -- media questions are handled by my office, so please feel free to reach out directly any time. Here's a response from Dean Hinkson.

"To reiterate, Barnard has no formal written policy about transgender applicants, and all applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. With regard to the Common Application's gender box, applicants who select "male" would receive an automated message that Barnard is a women's college and only receives and reviews applications from applicants who select "female."  If we were to receive a follow-up question about this from an applicant who selects male but identifies as female, their request and individual circumstances would be taken into consideration. To date, the College has not received any such requests. As such, there is no set procedure for medical or legal records at this time."

Whatever the reasons for having to go through the Media Relations department, Dean Hinkson’s response is telling. Either, no trans women have applied to Barnard, or more likely, they have been put off by the email reminding them that Barnard is, both in name and function, a women’s college.

Opportunities for reform

Not only should Barnard explicitly state their policy on their admissions website, but they should make a concerted effort to be more welcoming to trans men and women. According to Malotra-Gaudet, there is already a push from student groups on campus to be more welcoming to trans students. Q is partnering with SGA to change the first year housing survey that determines who first years will be paired for the year. These changes will hopefully make it more inclusive of trans and LGBTQ students, as well as adding the option for trans or queer students to be paired together.

Other projects in the works include a new Barnard housing video that will be more representative of all the groups on campus than the current one, and a gender quiz on Facebook that will give admitted students a better understanding of the trans student movement before they arrive on campus. Malotra-Gaudet hopes that in a few years there can even be a gender and sexuality awareness floor just as there is a wellness floor within first year student housing. She hopes this floor will help strike a balance on campus between being welcoming of trans students, and inclusive of students with all types of gender identities.

It is time for the Barnard administration to be more transparent with regards their trans student policy. Redefining what it means to be a woman, and pushing those boundaries have always been a central part of Barnard’s mission. As the most competitive women’s college in the United States, allowing trans and gender fluid students to apply, regardless of their paperwork, would be a strong, positive step. For who is Barnard to arbitrarily assign who is a woman or not?


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