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Morehouse College says it’ll start accepting trans students in 2020. But there’s one big problem.

What about students who transition after admission?

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

Morehouse College, a historically black men’s college, recently announced it would start admitting transgender men in 2020.

Terrance Dixon, Morehouse vice president for enrollment management, said in the announcement, “In a rapidly changing world that includes a better understanding of gender identity, we’re proud to expand our admissions policy to consider trans men who want to be part of an institution that has produced some of the greatest leaders in social justice, politics, business, and the arts for more than 150 years.”

Although it was a historic win for transgender men who want to attend Morehouse, trans women will not be admitted and students who are admitted to Morehouse identifying as men and transition during their time at Morehouse as trans women, would no longer be eligible to stay at the school.

Campus Pride, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ students, said that although the change in policy is welcome, it’s not inclusive enough to transgender students. Campus Pride noted that other historically black colleges do not have policies that reject students as they transition:

While it is wonderful that Morehouse has finally taken a step toward trans inclusion like the historically women’s college HBCUs Spelman and Bennett, it is disappointing that they will not allow someone assigned male at birth who subsequently decides that they are not male to stay. Many historically women’s colleges, including nearby Spelman, enable individuals assigned female who no longer identify as female to graduate.

Morehouse said there are exemptions to this rule, which will be granted by a three-person committee appointed by the president after a student provides a written appeal. A student can make a final appeal to the college president if they disagree with the committee’s decision. The college also accepts nonbinary and gender nonconforming people for admission.

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ThinkProgress reached out to Morehouse for more clarification on the policy and how it will be enforced. When asked whether Morehouse will require students to provide certain documentation with their correct gender marker, which is a barrier for some students, Morehouse sent its gender identity admissions and matriculation policy.

According to the policy, “Where there is a conflict between the student’s gender and sex that appears on documentation, such as an academic transcript or documents provided as part of the financial aid process, the student is strongly encouraged to contact the Office of Admissions for a discussion around the desire to attend a single gender men’s college and how they self-identify in terms of gender.”

Jose Mallabo, vice president of strategic communications for the college, said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress, “The policy was developed to make clear that all individuals who live and self identify as men — including trans men — can apply to and matriculate at Morehouse College. This includes embracing the fluidity of individuals who identify as gender non-conforming and non-binary students — as this policy does not impact them.”

Under its gender identity admissions and matriculation policy, Morehouse also states, Morehouse will continue to use masculine pronouns, the language of brotherhood, and other gendered language that reflects its mission as an institution designed to develop men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service.”

Gender non-conforming and nonbinary people are a diverse group of people whose understanding of their gender, as well as their presentation, varies widely. Gender non-conforming people and nonbinary people use a variety of pronouns, including both she and they pronouns, or he and they, or simply they. Some gender non-conforming and nonbinary people use pronouns such as ze, sie, or hir. It’s unclear how Morehouse is “embracing the fluidity of individuals” by stating that it won’t broaden its use of language. 

ThinkProgress also asked Morehouse to clarify how it plans to enforce a policy that excludes trans women, such as, whether a trans woman on campus would have to inform a staff person or someone in the administration of their gender to essentially be kicked out or if staff and faculty plan to monitor students they believe are transgender women due to their pronouns or gender presentation. Morehouse did not directly answer those questions. Instead, Morehouse only pointed to its policies, which explained that the college “will offer guidance and resources” for trans women who are no longer eligible to enroll there. But it begs the question: Who will be impacted by this policy? Gender nonconforming and nonbinary people can be affected by the policing of gender presentation and use of pronouns on campus as well as transgender women. Cisgender men could be affected by this policy merely by presenting themselves in a way that strays from certain masculine norms of dressing.

Some trans men and non-binary and gender nonconforming people tweeted out their disapproval of the policy.

Transgender women and nonbinary students have already spoken out about their concerns with the policy. Marquintas Oldham, a queer nonbinary Morehouse student who uses they and them pronouns, told the New York Times that they identified as men when they enrolled. Oldham said that Morehouse’s policies are not truly inclusive to nonbinary people.

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Oldham said, “Who I am on this campus, they are trying to kind of like remove me from self-identifying myself. They said in their policy that they are going to still use male-gendered language and that affects me. Sometimes I do dress as a feminine, non-binary person, so when I dress the way I want to dress and it’s a problem, that affects me.”

Tatiana Rafael, a trans woman who is a student at Morehouse, told BuzzFeed News she believes she will not be affected by the new policy because she is grandfathered in. “Morehouse is missing a crucial opportunity to become more inclusive by purposefully excluding trans female students,” she added.