America’s second oldest women-only college will begin accepting admission applications from transgender and “non-binary” candidates.
Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. made the announcement in a recent email to students. The college had been discussing the policy change since 2014, according to KOMU-TV.
The new policy will take effect beginning in fall 2019 and arrives not long after the Trump administration’s proposed changes to Title IX, which would not legally define “gender,” thus limiting one’s gender identity to that of the sex assigned to them at birth: male or female. It is unclear what impact the proposed Title IX change, if implemented, could have on the new Stephens College policy.
The U.S. Education Department and Stephens College did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
“Admission and continued enrollment in Stephens College’s undergraduate residential program will be restricted exclusively to women, including students who are legally identified as female and who self-identify as women; students who document an ongoing transition to female and who self-identify as women; and students who are legally identified as female but do not fit within the gender binary,” the Stephens College email read.
Transgender and non-binary students who apply “will be required to prove that they identify and live as women through legal documentation,” according to an explainer released by the college.
“The world’s understanding of and definition of womanhood is changing. Stephens is evolving — just as it always has — to ensure that it continues to provide the extraordinary experience of a Stephens College education to all women who will seek and benefit from it,” a statement from the college read, according to the Columbia Missourian newspaper.
The school further clarified that “because the College has expanded its definition of womanhood to include both sex and gender, it is logically consistent that it also acknowledges both sex and gender in its definition of manhood.”
As a result, current students who are transitioning into males will be permitted to finish their current semesters. After that, they will no longer be eligible to enroll in classes. Students who are currently transitioning to males while applying to Stephens College also are not eligible for admission.
As KOMU-TV noted, students’ reactions to the newly announced policy varied.
“I like that trans-women are allowed here and they also accept that non-binary is a thing,” student Kasper Ramirez, a transgender male, said. However, if Ramirez were to apply to the school today, “I definitely would be denied. I would probably have to find a new college, which is really upsetting because I love it here.”
Ramirez is currently enrolled, however, and therefore will not be impacted by the new policy.
Another current student, Sally Russell, expressed concern with the change: “We are required to live on campus, so how are the dorm arrangements going to go? If someone has male genitalia and is living within the women’s dorms, people have been really scared since a lot of people on campus have roommates and share bathrooms.”
Russell also wondered about current students who were admitted under the old admission policy but who are now transitioning to males.
“How are they going to feel being that they’re technically not supposed to be here, but they’re grandfathered?” the student said to KOMU-TV.
The country’s oldest women-only college, Salem College in North Carolina, reportedly considered a similar policy in 2013, although the proposal that was discussed did not specifically contain the word “transgender.” Asked by the Winston-Salem Journal at the time why it did not include “transgender” in the phrasing, Salem College spokeswoman Michelle Melton said, “does it need to be?”
“The trustees have affirmed Salem’s mission to admit only women in its undergraduate traditional degree program. Salem will not discuss its students,” Melton added.