Opening the gates

Opening the gates

This afternoon, Barnard College hosted its first community open forum to discuss the potential implementation of a transgender admission policy. Led by President Debora Spar, the forum offered an open and private space for both current Barnard students and alumni to share their thoughts on the college’s pressing issue. While President Spar began the forum requesting that press not report on the specific content of the session, she encouraged members to share their personal experiences from the event. Bwog Managing Editor Courtney Couillard attended the forum and shares her personal experience as a current Barnard student.

Alumni and students filled the Diana Event Oval this afternoon to participate in what seemed like a discussion only Barnard can be bold enough to host: the implementation of a transgender admission policy. Barnard is labeled a “women’s college” and is nationally recognized as a leading college for women to engage academically and socially during their time at college. While most discussion tables around the nation have a mixed population of men and women, Barnard has given permission only to women; women may be the leading voice in a conversation without having to wait their turn, for a man to speak first. This is the beauty of Barnard, and it is one of the main reasons I applied to Barnard as an early decision applicant. I enjoy being challenged on a daily basis in my classrooms to better understand gender and sexuality, and this afternoon’s forum was simply a continuation of the challenging conversations Barnard women are accustomed to.

President Spar began the session by introducing three questions that would guide the discussion of the afternoon:

  1. Should the college consider trans women for admission?
  2. How should the college support the trans men and gender non-conforming student community on campus?
  3. How should Barnard define its status as a women’s college in a world of evolving gender identities?

For over two hours, Barnard women of all ages debated these questions and discussed how we as a collective community will ultimately answer them. Some attendees voiced strong support for the implementation of a policy, citing other minorities who have gained an accepting place at Barnard in the past. Others disagreed by questioning legality issues and the very definition of what it means to be a “woman” applying to a women’s college. Alumni voiced gratitude to students for explaining the complicated definitions and issues of transgender men and women; students gladly reciprocated with patience to explain why they found this forum’s topic important for all current and former Barnard women.

While I cannot go into any specific content of the forum, I can say that it was a powerful discussion on a topic that can be both difficult yet salient for the college. If you are a Barnard student and would like to know what your peers have to say on this topic, I encourage you to attend the next student forum even if you do not intend to speak. All other members of the Columbia community should fill out the online form. We should continue to discuss what the Barnard community seeks to create with the implementation of a transgender community, and we must take the time to understand the other sides of the debate just as much as our own opinion. Barnard has never been known to step down from an important issue on its campus. We must acknowledge that although this conversation may make us uncomfortable, it is important that we continue on with this conversation for the sake of both current and future Barnard students.