As of now, Barnard only admits applicants who indicate that they are female on their applications. But at Barnard, there are not only students who identify as (cis) women but also those along a whole spectrum of trans identities, such as trans male, genderqueer, genderfluid, and more.
Barnard is already a school whose population is not solely made up of women, and yet it continues to exclude trans women. Barnard has no written policy regarding its admission of trans women, which means the only way for a trans woman to be able to apply is for them to have “all their paperwork in order” (i.e., to have all application materials state that the applicant is female)—which is an unreasonable burden for applicants. Changing legal gender documentation is an expensive process everywhere, requires surgery in most states, and is not allowed in other states. Asking a student applying to college to navigate all this presupposes a level of parental support and environmental safety that often just isn’t there. Additionally, this excludes nonbinary DMAB (designated male at birth) trans people, those who do not wish to transition medically, and those who cannot medically transition for medical reasons.
As a college that was founded in order to provide education to women who were denied it on the basis of their gender, the unconditional acceptance of trans women fits perfectly with Barnard’s mission to provide resources to those who have been systematically denied access on the basis of their gender. Throughout its history, Barnard’s definition of “woman” has expanded—originally, “women’s college” really meant “rich, white women’s college.” Thankfully, this definition has expanded over time to admit women of color and women from other class backgrounds. We believe the time has come to extend admission further: As a historically women’s college, Barnard should admit trans women.
Trans women face disproportionate violence on the basis of their gender identities and presentations. The supportive space that Barnard could provide for them is important and would foster the sort of community that has helped so many women.
Admittance doesn’t mean perfection, though—Barnard (and Columbia as well) can still do a lot of work to bring in more women of color and create better systems of support for students of color, especially queer and trans students of color. These efforts and resources should expand as our student populations do. Similarly, education that provides students with a multifaceted understanding of gender is needed to change transphobic and cissexist attitudes.
Binary structures of gender that establish standards of femininity and masculinity are constantly reinforced in everyday language, reproducing transphobic attitudes and behaviors. Seemingly meaningless practices such as referring to Barnard students as “Barnard women” or “girls” erases nonbinary and trans identities. And although this is a reflection of societal attitudes founded in ciscentric thought, Barnard’s lack of attention to these issues works to further marginalize already-oppressed gender identities.
To stand by its commitments to diversity and to student well-being, Barnard must be more active in combating transphobia in its policies, in its classrooms, and on campus as a whole. The creation of gender-inclusive bathrooms, which came from collaborations among students, faculty, and administrators, is a step in the right direction for Barnard. But students and administrators must continue to work toward progressive policies that are beneficial to trans and gender-nonconforming people in our community.
Trans women are women, and to imply otherwise in any way perpetuates transmisogyny, the intersection of transphobia and misogyny that discriminates against trans women on interpersonal and institutional levels. We agree with Dean Spade, who proposed at the recent SGA town hall on gender at Barnard that the college should be a space for all gender-oppressed people, not just those who were assigned female at birth.
Mills College, a women’s college in the San Francisco Bay Area, has taken strides toward the inclusion of transgender students—it published a report on how to make the campus more trans-inclusive in its admissions processes, as well as in various aspects of daily campus life. Two years prior to that, an anonymous trans student published an opinion piece with similar goals to ours, discussing the necessity of opening the college’s doors to all trans people but especially trans women. At Simmons College, another women’s college, trans women are also admitted. One woman, Alex, published her acceptance letter online. Smith College has had less success, but students there are working tirelessly toward the inclusion of trans women.
We do not intend to attack or demonize Barnard with this op-ed. As Barnard and Columbia students, we have a great deal of love for Barnard College, and it is because of this love that we want to push Barnard to be more inclusive. We believe that Barnard can do better and want all gender-oppressed people who desire to call this school home to be able to do so.
The inclusion of trans women at Barnard will certainly not solve all problems of transphobia on either side of the street, but it is an important and necessary step in the right direction.
This op-ed was written by Barnard and Columbia students from the boards of GendeRevolution and Proud Colors.
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