Some students and faculty members are frustrated that Thursday’s town hall on Barnard’s transgender admissions policy will only be open to Barnard students and alumni.
Barnard President Debora Spar announced last week that the forums would not be open to the press or external audiences—including Columbia students—“to ensure that everyone can speak freely.” While additional town halls will accommodate Barnard faculty and staff, Thursday’s forum is only open to Barnard students and “alumnae,” Spar said in her email.
Students for a Trans-Inclusive Barnard reached out to Spar’s office on Sunday asking that the restrictions be lifted. The group said that the policies on who can attend the forums excludes many—including transgender women—from the conversation.
“A group of people that are really important to hear from are trans women and trans girls who are interested in applying to Barnard,” Caleb LoSchiavo, BC ’15 and a member of Students for a Trans-Inclusive Barnard, said. “They are the most important here because they are the people who want to be in the space but are prohibited.”
A Barnard spokesperson, however, said in an email that the college sees the town hall as a way for “those within the Barnard community have the opportunity to speak and be heard, as well as have their opinions relayed to the Board of Trustees.”
“Logistically, it would be difficult to accommodate a wider audience, while still prioritizing Barnard’s own voices. If members of the broader Columbia University wish to express their thoughts, we welcome their input through the online form,” the spokesperson said.
Robbie Lyman, CC ’15 and a member of Students for a Trans-Inclusive Barnard and Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, said that while he understands the administration’s reasoning, he believes the policy affects more than just those considered within the Barnard community.
“Since Barnard currently can’t enroll trans women, I think it would have made a lot of sense to have them open to have the town halls open to Columbia IDs as well so trans women of Columbia or alumnae could have participated,” Lyman said.
Janet R. Jakobsen, a professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Barnard, said that the exclusion of trans women poses problems.
“I do think that the question of trans women’s voices within the conversation is real,” Jakobsen said. “Making social change without hearing from the people whom are either excluded by an exclusionary policy or whom are variously made unequal tends to replicate rather than alleviate the problems of exclusion and inequality.”
The six town halls are also segmented—the Feb. 3 and Feb. 10 meetings will be open only to Barnard faculty and staff, the Feb. 9 meeting and a virtual meeting on Feb. 10 will be open to parents and alumni, and the Thursday and the Feb. 16 meetings will be open to students and alumni.
Dylan Kapit, BC ’16 and a member of Students for a Trans-Inclusive Barnard, said that they think that the divide reflects the monetary influence of various groups at Barnard.
“We [students] are the ones who are like, ‘Let’s make this change,’” Kapit said. “We are not the ones who are putting money into the system and funding the school we want to change.”
Barnard Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence Jennifer Finney Boylan, who is a trans woman, said that though she would like to see Barnard adopt an all-inclusive approach to transgender admissions—as has been adopted at Mount Holyoke College and Mills College—Barnard’s unique relationship with Columbia will require a college-specific approach.
“I hope that we get there [to a trans-inclusive admissions policy], but it is right and proper for us to get there in a slow, deliberative, and respectful process,” Boylan said. “I hope that whatever we’re doing right now will reflect that.”
Teo Armus contributed reporting.