A private women’s college in Virginia announced Wednesday a new policy allowing students transitioning from female to male while at school to remain enrolled and earn their degree, marking an important change in student support.

Under the new guidelines at Hollins University in Roanoke, enrolled students who transition from female to male will no longer be required to transfer to a different institution.

The new policies also outline changes in the restrictions to applicants regarding gender identity. Trans women, individuals who were assigned male at birth but identify as female, will no longer have to complete a full surgical transition before being eligible for admission. Trans men, individuals who were assigned female at birth but identify as male, and individuals who identify as nonbinary are not eligible for admission, according to the policy.

The updated policy says the university will consider admission for any undergraduate applicants who “consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth.” Applicants must identify as a woman on their application materials and can speak with an admissions counselor if there are any discrepancies.

Hollins’ Board of Trustees Chairwoman Alexandra Trower said that the changes adopted recognize gender plurality while maintaining the university’s identity as a women’s college. The board adopted the new policy at a meeting Saturday. Trower said it is a modern step forward for the university.

“We are an institution that wants to support every single student, that cares about every single student, that wants every single student to reach their potential,” she said. “To penalize an individual for making the very difficult decision to transition and saying they have to leave their community, their friends, their teachers and leadership positions felt very much at odds with who we are.”

The board’s decision comes after a report from the university’s Transgender Policy Task Force, which was created in 2018 and included student, alumni, and faculty representatives. The task force consulted with experts and researched the policies of other all-women’s colleges to determine whether Hollins’ policy was adequate for its students, Trower said. The board received the task force’s report in May and took the summer to conduct additional research. The board unanimously agreed the policy needed to change and that students should not be forced to transfer.

Hollins University enacted its first transgender policy in 2007. Under that policy, only trans women who had surgically transitioned could apply for admission.

The policy allowed enrolled students to adopt a male identity, but if they took further steps to transition — taking hormones, having surgery or legally changing their names — they would only be able to finish their current semester before being required to transfer by the university. The policy underwent minor revisions in 2013 and 2016 before its most recent change.

The school has faced critics who found the policy to be unfair and invasive. The recent change brings Hollins closer in line with policies adopted by other women’s colleges across the country. Trower said the new policy closely follows one adopted at New York City’s Barnard College in 2015.

Hollins has approximately 645 undergraduate students and 145 students in its coed graduate programs.

Sources: Star Tribune 10/31/19; The Roanoke Times 10/31/19

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