Historic all-girls college is now accepting men if they identify as female

Hickman Hall at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.
Hickman Hall at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. | Screenshot: Stephens College

America's second oldest women-only college has announced it will begin accepting admission applications from some trans-identified candidates, explaining that the school has “expanded its definition of womanhood.”

In a statement, Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, announced that it will be admitting male students who identify as women — but will exclude women who identify as men — beginning in the fall of 2019.

The college's new policy says, "The college’s undergraduate residential women’s program will continue to admit and enroll students who are women and who live as women, just as it always has. It will also admit and enroll students who were not born female, but who identify and live as women; those students will need to provide legal documentation that they are legally women or that they are transitioning to female.”

“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, the college will stop admitting and enrolling students who were born female but who now identify as men or who are transitioning from female to male."

The updated policy goes on to explain that the “world’s understanding of and definition of womanhood is changing, and 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 seek and will benefit from it.”

In recent years, issues of gender, identity and inclusion have become front and center at women's colleges across the U.S. Since 2014, over half of such institutions in the country have developed formal admissions policies for trans-identified students, according to Vox.

The decision to include transgender and non-binary students at Stephens College, a 185-year-old institution, was made unanimously by the board of trustees, according to an explainer released by the school.

A timeline from the college shows that the policy has been under consideration since 2014, shortly after the Obama administration issued new administrative guidance defining “gender identity” as an individual's “internal sense of being male or female,” and defining a person suffering from gender dysphoria as someone “with a gender identity that is different from the sex assigned them at birth.”

"It asserts that transgender students are protected from gender discrimination under Title IX (backed by a 2016 statement by the Justice Dept.)," the website continues.

These actions led "women's colleges to begin exploring the legal issues related to the admittance (or not) of transgender students," the school's website says.

Admitting that the decision will “satisfy some and displease others,” the school board says it aims to prepare women “for the lives that have awaited them.”

“Today, she is evolving into a women’s college for the world in which we live — one ready to admit, educate and empower women for generations to come,” it states.

While some students at the college applauded the move, others took issue with the newly announced policy.

“We are required to live on campus, so how are the dorm arrangements going to go?” Stephens College student Sally Russell told news station KOMU-TV. “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 added that the details of the policy remain murky, leaving students with questions about what it will mean long-term.

“Since the school has been so quiet about it, I feel like people haven't been able to learn about it, which has been a problem. This was announced and we've heard nothing really other than the announcement,” she said.

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