Female-Only Cambridge College to Allow Transgender Women

The policy change at Murray Edwards College does not affect admissions at the the other two female-only Cambridge colleges. CreditView Pictures, via Getty Images

Kathmadu (Pahichan) October 6 – Transgender women will be allowed to enroll in one of the three female-only colleges at Cambridge University, the school has said.

The decision, made by the college council last week and announced on Monday, means that transgender women can apply to Murray Edwards College for a place in the term that begins next October, said a spokeswoman, Clare Stroud.

The college president, Barbara Stocking, said in a statement that, “We are a college that is open to all outstanding young women, and so it is absolutely right, both legally and within our set of values, for anyone who identifies as female to be able to apply to study with us.”

The school said it would consider applications from any student who “identifies as female and, where they have been identified as male at birth, has taken steps to live in the female gender.”

But it had no “hard and fast rule” about what those steps might be, said Juliet Foster, an administrator. She said applications would be considered on a case-by-case basis, including transfer applications from students currently enrolled at other colleges and universities.

“This doesn’t affect our single-sex status: We are a college that exists to prioritize women’s education and learning,” said Dr. Foster, a professor of psychology. “But legally, societally and generationally, there has been a change in the understanding of gender and what makes one female.”

The school, which was known until 2008 as New Hall and counts the actress Tilda Swinton and the comedian Sue Perkins among its alumnae, is one of 31 legally distinct constituent colleges at the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of higher education.

That means the new policy does not affect admissions at the university’s two other female-only colleges, Newnham College and Lucy Cavendish College. Representatives for the colleges did not respond to an email seeking comment on Wednesday.

Germaine Greer, a feminist academic and a former lecturer at Newnham College who has argued that transgender women are not “real women,” criticized the decision by Murray Edwards.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Ms. Greer said if the college administrators “really don’t believe that gender is binary, then they really shouldn’t be a single-sex college.”

“Their position is ridiculous,” she said. “The only sane thing for them to do is to cease discriminating on the basis of assigned gender of any kind.”

Murray Edwards College is not the first prominent women’s school to allow the admission and enrollment of transgender women.

In 2015, Barnard College, which is part of Columbia University in New York, said it would accept applications from transgender women (but not from transgender men or from students who identified with neither gender).

That same year, Smith College in Northampton, Mass., said it would accept applications from transgender women because “in the years since Smith’s founding, concepts of female identity have evolved.”

Dr. Foster said the new policy at Murray Edwards College was necessary because people are not allowed under British law to change their gender until they reach the age of 18. That is a milestone that most students applying to university have not yet reached, she said.

“There are students who are transgender at the University of Cambridge already, and there have been for many, many years,” she said. “The only change we’re talking about is related to students at the application stage.”

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