Women’s colleges nationwide face a number of challenges in keeping pace with society’s constantly evolving understanding of the female identity.
Many U.S. women’s colleges have been addressing transgender issues in their official college policies. Although many — but not all — single-sex colleges allow enrolled students who transition during their course of study to remain through graduation, some are grappling with the issue of whether to admit students who have already transitioned. And more and more schools are examining such issues as restroom labeling and housing for transgender students.
“Gender and sex are not equivalent, and gender as a social construction does not flow anatomically from genitalia and reproductive organs,” wrote Judith Lorber, professor emerita of sociology and women’s studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, in “‘Night to His Day’: The Social Construction of Gender.”
In an effort to be inclusive of women, whatever their external genitalia, colleges such as Smith in Northampton, Mass., have revised admissions policies to include self-identified transgender women.
Not all colleges have yet followed Smith’s example, however, especially in the Southern states.
“We do not have any policies specific to transgender students,” said Alana Etter, the assistant director of human resources at Meredith College in North Carolina.
Meredith College’s non-discrimination policy states that it “admits women students of any age, race, creed, sexual orientation, national and ethnic origin” but it does not address sex or gender.
“I know that we have had several female to male trans* students who have lived in the residence halls and that they had to have applied as biologically female,” said Roxy McPherson, the president of Meredith’s LGBTQ+ student organization, in an email. “In my opinion, Meredith should think about whether or not they will open their doors to male to female trans* students and if they would be allowed to live on campus.”
Nor does nearby Salem College, which was swept up in a controversy 18 months ago after it announced its intention to develop a policy on transgender students. Soon after, a letter from the chairman of the board of trustees seemed to negate that plan, and school representatives pointedly refused to discuss the issue of transgender students with the local newspaper.
“Salem College has affirmed that we are a women’s college, and we have not adopted a written policy on transgender students,” said Krispin Barr, Salem’s dean of students.
Bennett College, a historically black women’s college, also in North Carolina, does not have policies regarding transgender students but does acknowledge their existence and acceptance on the campus.
“I know we have females that present as male,” Stanley Viltz, Bennett’s associate provost for student affairs, told the Winston-Salem Journal.
Bennett College’s human resources office confirmed that it welcomes applications from students who have transitioned to female but are still identified as male on their birth certificates, provided the students’ official documents, such as their social security card, include their legal name if it changed. The sex that is indicated on the birth certificate does not matter.