Barnard College has decided to admit transgender women, becoming the latest women's college to issue a new policy acknowledging the fluidity and complexity of gender.
The policy, announced Thursday, says Barnard will consider applicants "who consistently live and identify as women." That excludes transgender men, or applicants born female but identifying as male. The decision is an attempt to balance Barnard's identity as a women's college with what the school calls "recognition of our changing world and an evolving understanding of gender identity."
Though it won't consider transgender men for admission, the school announced it would still give its full support to any student who makes such a transition while enrolled.
The decision makes Barnard the last of the traditional Seven Sisters colleges to update their admissions policies. In the last nine months or so, each school has come up with a slightly different formula. Over a period of several months, President Debora Spar led five town halls and one virtual town hall for students, faculty or alumni, and conducted an online survey that drew more than 900 responses.
"As expected, a wide range of passionate and deeply held beliefs were discussed and debated," Spar and board of trustees chairman Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald wrote in a joint letter to the community Thursday, following the board vote a day earlier. "But on two main points, the responses were compelling and clear. 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."
In excluding trans men, Barnard's policy is in line with that announced recently by Smith College. On the other hand, Mount Holyoke College decided last fall that it would consider both trans women and trans men for admission.
The series of new policies comes as transgender issues have taken a prominent place in the cultural conversation — none more obviously than the transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner, and the high levels of interest that has evoked. Other recent examples: Actress Laverne Cox of "Orange is the New Black" appearing on a Time magazine cover touting "The Transgender Tipping Point, " and the Golden Globe-winning TV show "Transparent," starring Jeffrey Tambor as a trans woman.
Spar's letter noted that the decision comes as the school marks its 125th anniversary.
"It is fitting that we have come together to recall our history and re-examine our core values," the letter said. "We educated and challenged each other, and Barnard is that much stronger for it."