Trans@Barnard is a new resource website run by Barnard’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Within the context of a Historically Women’s College, there’s more to this project than meets the eye.
This semester, the Barnard Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) published a new website called “Trans@Barnard” which serves as a resource guide for transmasculine, transfeminine, nonbinary, and/or gender-nonconforming students. This site represents one part of a multifaceted, ongoing effort to make Barnard a more supportive space for trans and gender Non-conforming (GNC) students. Bwog spoke with a representative from the Barnard administration, an activist alum, and a nonbinary student, and delved into the recent history of trans issues at Barnard to contextualize this latest initiative.
The Trans@Barnard Site: Contents and Development
The Trans@Barnard website consists of six sections: Chosen Name, Housing & Restrooms, Physical & Mental Healthcare, Classroom Guidance, Gender-based Discrimination Resources, and LGBTQIA+ Initiatives on Campus.
Throughout the site, there are hints at ongoing development. In the “Chosen Name” section, website administrators include an aside: “please note that Barnard is in the process of updating the language from “preferred name” to “chosen name.” In “Housing and Restrooms” readers are reminded that a “map of all-gender bathroom locations [is] coming soon.” Conversations with an administrative representative and the alum consultant who is primarily responsible for this expansion of resources indicate that the Trans@Barnard initiative is far from finished.
Dylan Kapit (BC ‘16) is an educator and an activist. On their website, they describe themself as queer, trans, nonbinary, autistic, and Jewish. They earned a BA in Education and Psychology from Barnard in 2016 and an MA in Special Education from Teachers College in 2020. They are currently working on a Ph.D. in Special Education at the University of Pittsburgh. Kapit has been involved in Trans organizing at Barnard for nearly a decade — since their first year at Barnard in 2012.
Kapit explained the extensive history behind the initiative, “Trans@Barnard is just what has morphed out of several of us organizing together. You can trace the gender-inclusive bathrooms back to a lot of the work I was doing when I was there… There’s been Trans@Barnard organizing happening outside of the college for years. This is just the first time the college has put their name on it as well.”
Planning for the Trans@Barnard website began in Spring 2021, when, according to a Barnard representative, the DEI Cabinet met with College President Sian Beilock, and the cabinet members “were charged with identifying existing resources and building out additional support for Trans and gender-nonconforming students.”
To begin the project, the DEI Cabinet hired Kapit as a consultant over Summer 2021. They (Kapit) met with current Trans students and staff members from various student support offices, such as Primary Care Health Service (PCHS), to identify and build upon existing resources.
In addition to facilitating student focus groups, a significant portion of Kapit’s consulting work was dedicated to communicating with and, in some cases, training Barnard offices to ensure their efficacy in serving trans students.
“There were a lot of behind-the-scenes trainings with a lot of those offices being advertised on the site because I basically said ‘it doesn’t do anything if we’re sending people to health services and health services says transphobic things to those students.’ We have not solved the problem just by sending them to health services. So, I actually did a lot of work this summer talking to various audiences on campus and training them to make sure that ‘hey, we’re gonna list you on the website as a resource for students. Here are the things you are not allowed to do or say to students.’ Students probably don’t know that all of the offices linked on the website were personally vetted over the summer. I like knowing that I can tell you that you are going to places where people are not actively causing harm to students because they’ve all been told directly and explicitly that they can’t,” said Kapit.
Kapit’s concerns about staff training were deeply rooted in personal experience. “A reason for wanting to do the work as an alum is that my experience being trans at Barnard as a student really sucked and I was not interested in being the same for other people,” said Kapit. “100% of my work as an alum comes from my experience being harmed as a student. Also, I’m an educator by training and I’ve been in the field for 10 years. Part of my desire to be an educator is to make sure things don’t happen to other people that happened to me, so I think that’s my route and my approach to being a teacher more than anything else.”
Expanding Trans Programming for the Future
Wes Gee (BC ‘23) is a nonbinary student studying Political Science. They described their experience as a gender non-conforming student at Barnard, saying “my freshman year, there was positivity and acceptance towards [trans and nonbinary students] but I think there was a serious lack of a sort of touchpoint for [those] students that was actually embedded in the administration. Obviously, there are tons of clubs devoted to LGBT issues and there is a club over on the Columbia side that is for specifically trans and nonbinary students, but that’s a club, it’s not really an institution in the school. I saw that change honestly, a few months ago, with the Trans@Barnard—I will call it an effort. I first noticed [Trans@Barnard] via social media presence. It appeared as an account a few months ago. In terms of what it is doing, I’m genuinely not sure. But having its presence there, knowing that people are attempting to institutionalize Trans support as a permanent pillar of Barnard definitely makes me feel better,” said Gee. “Barnard kind of lives with the title of Historically Women’s College, and that makes a lot of people assume that everybody at Barnard identifies as a woman. I think that having an institution at the school dedicated to trans students really solidifies the fact, for me, that trans students are at Barnard and have always been at Barnard.”
Gee’s comments about trans programming aligned with Kapit’s observations from consultations: “Students want Trans Experience at Barnard programming. It sounds like what’s happening is there’s like a lot of Queer Awareness Month and Trans Awareness Week programming across the street, but being queer and trans at Barnard is different, and there’s not a lot of Barnard-specific programming. That’s something that I think we need to see.”
Taking Kapit’s recommendations into consideration, the DEI cabinet has “[plans underway] to build out specific programming for students and other community members who hold [trans and non-binary] identities, as well as those who are interested in learning about these identities, this year,” according to a Barnard Representative.
Trans Students and Barnard: A Brief History of Policy and Debate
When asked about Barnard’s universal application of she/her pronouns and words like “daughters” and “alumnae” to its student body, a Barnard Representative stated, “Barnard’s continued mission as a Women’s College remains central to many of our communications. The DEI Cabinet is dedicated to creating an inclusive campus for all of our students while honoring our continuing mission as a Women’s College and we will continue to foster dialogue around these issues.”
Barnard’s history with trans issues is complicated. As a self-identified Women’s College, gender is a central tenet of the institution’s mission statement. Compared with peer institutions, Barnard has taken minimal action towards revising its gender-based policies. In 2015, Barnard College was the last of the Seven Sisters — a long-standing consortium of Historically Women’s Colleges (HCWs) — to announce a “Transgender Policy,” and remains the most conservative member of the consortium in regards to gender-based admissions policies. According to its policy, Barnard will consider admission for “applicants who consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth.” The policy goes on to state, “this admissions policy does not affect students who transition during their time at Barnard. Once admitted, every student will receive the individualized support that is an essential part of the Barnard experience.“
Other members of the consortium — Smith College, Bryn Mawr College, Wellesley College, and Mount Holyoke College — have admissions policies that invite varying degrees of gender diversity. Smith welcomes applications from “nonbinary or gender-nonconforming individuals who also identify as women.” Mount Holyoke, on the other hand, has a more open “Undergraduate Admission Policy,” which states, “as a women’s college that is gender diverse, we welcome applications from female, trans and nonbinary students.”
A Spectator Op-Ed by Audrey Petit (BC ‘22), published September 28th, engaged in this ongoing debate, asserting, “It’s time for Barnard to update its admissions policies.” In the article, Petit suggests that if Barnard were to update its policies in line with Mount Holyoke’s inclusive model, the College would “be able to maintain the ideals of gender equality and empowerment that attract donors while still holding space for the current student body.”
Gee, who began using they/them pronouns as a junior in high school, spoke to the complexity of the issue of Barnard’s gender-based admissions policy: “I think that Barnard’s in a legitimately very tough spot and Historically Women’s Colleges are, in general, in a very tough spot because they are what they are, which [are] Historically Women’s College[s]. So they’re really stuck trying to balance their identity as an institution with the students who are actually there. So it’s like they want to support their students, but [the presence of]Trans people at Women’s Colleges is a very contentious issue at the moment because it opens the door to questions like ‘okay, what do you have to be to apply to these institutions? Do you have to identify as a woman or are nonbinary people welcome?’” said Gee. “I won’t push them to do more, because I know that they’re already treading a line and I’m not sure if we’ll ever cross it.”
Trans@Barnard Going Forward
In the process of identifying resources desired by trans students, Kapit came to the conclusion that an employee with experiential knowledge of trans issues would be a beneficial addition to Barnard’s administration:
“The reality is, I can’t put on a website ‘here’s how to get a professor to not dead name you’ and, you know, those are such personal, individualized situations. I think that what the website can do is let students know, ‘here’s how to contact dot XYZ.’ ‘Here’s what is available to you, as a student, in these offices.’ It’s not really a service website as much as it is a resources website. Students are looking for help with problem-solving and there’s no one on campus—we have decided that, you know, students have to go solve problems with cis people, and that’s not getting anyone anywhere,” said Kapit. “I think that in lieu of a center or a resource lounge or something, you need someone on campus who is devoted to this issue.”
Whether Trans@Barnard evolves into a larger website, a team, a lounge, or a center, it is being positioned as a permanent fixture — a fact that Gee acknowledged, saying, “I feel more confident that even after I’m gone, other trans students at Barnard will have an official space that they can go to instead of having to form coalitions of their own. I don’t think that Trans students should feel obligated to create their own spaces.”
Barnard’s DEI Cabinet currently consists of five Barnard staff members: Vice Dean of the College – Campus life, Nikki Youngblood-Giles, Monica L. Miller, Professor of English and Africana Studies, Dean of Faculty Diversity and Development, Cammie Jones, Executive Director of Community Engagement and Inclusion, Jennifer Rosales, Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Pedagogy, and Holly Tedder, Dean for Academic Planning and Class Advising. Each member of the cabinet holds multiple positions within the Barnard administration and there is no VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). The former VP of DEI, Ariana Gonzalez-Stokas, resigned in May 2021 after serving in the role for two years and has not yet been replaced. The DEI Cabinet welcomes feedback from students via email.
According to a Barnard representative, “In addition to providing training opportunities for faculty and staff, we hope to identify a point person for Trans and LGBTQIA+ students to help connect students to resources and support them throughout their studies.”
As Barnard continues to build its internal support network for trans students, Kapit suggests utilizing resources in the broader community of New York City. The Trans@Barnard website refers students to resources like Callen Lorde, The Gender and Sexuality Therapy Center, and other reputable external organizations.
All members of the Barnard community have access to a thorough guide to Gender Inclusivity in the Classroom, developed and published by the Center for Engaged Pedagogy. The guide defines useful terms, outlines practical applications of inclusivity, and offers a variety of supplemental educational sources.
Though approaches to gender inclusivity can vary, each of these sources prioritizes dialogue, education, and acceptance. Amid ongoing debates about the purpose and definition of Historically Women’s Colleges, trans people remain present in contested communities.
“There are going to be trans people at your Women’s College,” said Kapit. “Ask your peers what they need from you.”
Special thanks to:
Dylan Kapit and Wes Gee for their time and candor
Staff Writer Libby Walker for her assistance with research and interviews
The Corner of 116th and Broadway Via Barnard College Communications