Mount Holyoke is Accepting Transgender Women: Why Barnard Needs to do the Same

by Katherine Aliano Ruiz

Mount Holyoke leads by example in the inclusion of trans
women in women’s colleges

With our 125th anniversary, Barnard’s administrators, keynote speakers and others have been boasting more than usual about the illustrious Barnard woman. They speak of this woman as if she is a representative of all the students who attend our school—she has the freedom to choose and to succeed in the corporate world, she can get married and have a career because it’s 2014 people! Evidently, white, cis, liberal feminism is still the mainstream form of feminism that dominates most speeches made at these celebratory events. We need to acknowledge that the language used and the topics discussed in these speeches are usually highly exclusionary and speak only to a very specific kind of woman. More importantly, our administration needs to acknowledge this. When administrators applaud this Barnard woman, they don’t seem to realize that they are excluding anyone who doesn’t fit into their definition for woman. This excludes not only a good number of our student body, but also trans women.

Recently, Mount Holyoke’s appearance in newsstands brought Barnard’s exclusion of trans women to the forefront. Following in the steps of Mills College, Mount Holyoke changed their admission policy to allow applications from trans women this past September. Mount Holyoke’s new policy is extensive, but what it comes down to is that anyone who isn’t a cis male can apply and potentially be accepted. Like many other women’s colleges, Mount Holyoke already had trans men and gender non-conforming students enrolled, so the new policy is a success for trans women who up until that point couldn’t enroll at the college. Now that Mount Holyoke and Mills College have already adjusted their policies, Barnard is running out of excuses.

Barnard’s current policy states that they review applications “on a case by case basis.” What that essentially translates to is that if an application or FAFSA form indicates that someone is “legally” male, they are denied admission at Barnard. The message this policy sends is blatantly transphobic—that Barnard’s administration doesn’t see trans women as “real” women.

Dean Spade, a Barnard alum and activist, spoke at SGA Town Hall last semester at an event titled “Gender & Barnard: What Does it Mean to be a Women’s College?” Spade’s discussion on why trans women belong at Barnard College—and all women’s colleges—is highly insightful and relevant. He states what many of us know to be true—trans women belong at Barnard for the obvious and simple reason that they are women. But beyond that, Spade discusses the gender-based oppression that all women face. Women’s colleges are still relevant in part because gender-based oppression is very much alive. Excluding a group of women based on their “legal” gender betrays Barnard’s mission and merely perpetuates the oppression of trans women. When thinking about our community within a historically women’s college, we must also recognize the oppression trans men and gender non-conforming individuals face based on their gender and how their place at Barnard shouldn’t be questioned. 

So what now? It’s simple: Barnard’s policy needs to change. No institution should have the power to invalidate a person’s gender identity, especially one that prides itself on providing opportunities for the gender-oppressed. For a school that boosts the mantra of “majoring in unafraid,” Barnard’s administration and Board of Trustees are all so cautious to change the status quo. But as long as the policy remains unchanging, Barnard students will continue to fight for the admission of trans women.

Katherine Aliano Ruiz is a sophomore at Barnard and Managing Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing


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