Hollins University Changes Policy On Transgender Students

by | Nov 1, 2019 | GayRVA

The new policy allows students who transition while attending the woman’s college to graduate, and makes it easier for transgender women to apply for admission.

Roanoke County-based woman’s college Hollins University announced Wednesday that changes had been made to the university’s Policy On Transgender Issues that would ease some requirements and restrictions that have faced transgender students and prospective applicants in the past.

The new policy states that “individuals who consistently live and identify as women” are eligible to apply for admission to Hollins, a change that provides an easier path for admission than previous requirements for trans female applicants. Previously, the policy had required that trans women interested in apply for admission must have “completed the surgical process to transition from male to female and legal transformation from male to female.”

This requirement placed an almost impossible barrier to application for trans female prospective students, many of which would be applying while still high school students, and likely under the age of 18. As noted by Wikipedia, “obtaining sex reassignment surgery prior to the age of 18 is almost impossible in most countries.” Therefore, this previous requirement would have forced trans women who wished to apply to Hollins to delay entry into college for the multiple years generally necessary to complete the process of obtaining reassignment surgery — creating an effective barrier likely to shut out almost all potential trans female applicants.

Therefore, the new policy has eased a double standard in Hollins’ previous transgender policy, which had required full surgical transition of trans women but identified any Hollins student that “self identifies as a male” and either begins hormone therapy, engages in any surgical processes related to transition, or changes their name to a male name as a transgender man.

Under the previous Hollins policy, trans male students who began their transitions while students at Hollins would be required to transfer to another school as soon as they’d attained 64 credit hours. The new policy also eases this requirement, now allowing trans male students who begin their transition after becoming Hollins students to complete their degree and graduate from Hollins.

However, the new policy clarifies that neither transgender men nor non-binary applicants are eligible for admission to the university. “Hollins accepts applications from those who consistently live and identify as women,” states the new policy. “To be considered for admission applicants must affirmatively indicate that they consistently live and identify as a woman.”

“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,” said Alexandra Trower, Chairwoman of the Hollins Board Of Trustees, in an interview with The Roanoke Times. “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.”

Trower told the Roanoke Times that the new policy closely follows one adopted by New York-based woman’s college Barnard College four years ago. The policy was created based on a report by Hollins’s Transgender Policy Task Force, which was appointed in 2018 to investigate whether the previous Hollins Policy On Transgender Issues, instituted in 2007, adequately met the needs of Hollins students.

“I’m very proud of this work and very pleased that this is going to be our new policy,” Trower told the Roanoke Times. “I think that a more inclusive campus is what the liberal arts education is all about and consistent with the ethos of Hollins.”

However, to former Hollins student Sage Cannady, the new policy doesn’t go far enough. Cannady, who wrote an article for GayRVA in 2018 detailing their experiences of beginning their transition while a student at Hollins, is now a VCU student, and the president of VCU’s branch of Queer Action. In response to the new policy, Cannady sent a letter to the Hollins University Board of Trustees, which they shared with GayRVA as well.

In the letter, they brought up three issues they had with Hollins’s process in investigating and modifying their transgender policy. First, they stated that a young transgender woman should have been involved in the discussions about the policy, in order to provide a better understanding of trans women’s perspective on the issues the policy changes involve.

Second, Cannady drew attention to the hostile environment they encountered as a non-binary Hollins student. “Despite a top administrator stating support of my student status as a non-binary student on testosterone, I was ostracized, cyberbullied, and underwent numerous microaggressions from fellow students,” Cannady stated in the letter. “There will continue to be microaggressions, isolation, and general harm to transgender and non-binary students within the Hollins Culture if there is no effort to change such culture.”

“Those who promote the integrity of the university must find ways in which to respectfully enforce cultural norms that guarantee the safety of all marginalized students,” Cannady stated. “I, therefore, would have still left Hollins University after my junior year [even if the new policy had been in place], because of the harm I faced from student-to-student interactions within my living spaces, in the classroom, and online.”

Finally, Cannady mentioned that Hollins has long been “a safe haven for southern lesbians and women loving women,” and that the University’s transgender policy could act as an extension of this positive environment for LGBTQ students.

“I believe that Hollins University has further potential to become a safe haven for transgender and non-binary students as well,” Cannady stated. “We should promote this cultural notion and use it to extend the sibling atmosphere that Hollins so lovingly provides. It is important to acknowledge that Hollins is a southern and progressive educational institution that can continue to progress as a space for marginalized identities. The LGBTQ+ community is contradictory at times, but when united, it is also a powerful force that is worth promoting, especially under our current presidential administration.”

The new policy has not achieved universal acclaim, and may still have room to evolve in the coming years. However, it does make it easier for transgender students to be part of the Hollins University community. And that’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Photos via Hollins University/Facebook

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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