Monday, October 24, 2011

Women's College in Virginia Has Policy to Expel Transgender Students

Hollins University, a private, women's college in Virginia, is in the news this week for its policy to expel transgender students who "self-identify" as male and have taken one of the following steps towards transitioning to the male sex: "1) begins hormone therapy with the intent to transform from female to male, 2) undergoes any surgical process (procedure) to transform from female to male, or 3) changes her name legally with the intent of identifying herself as a man." This is an unfortunate policy because it denies compassion and withholds tolerance to students who may need them most. Instead, it places transgender students in difficult position of having to choose to either uproot themselves from their education and community, or else suppress and deny their deeply-felt identify.

Hollins appears to be the only women's college in the country with such a strict policy to exclude transgender students who have already matriculated, though other women's colleges have been reported to have engaged in other acts of discrimination, including rejecting a transgender alum from conducting alumni interviews (Wellesley) and not letting a transgender student serve as an overnight host for prospective students (Smith).

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports (see also permanent link, subscription required) that while Hollins University has had this policy for four years, it has recently come under fire from some Hollins students and faculty, prompting a university diversity committee has decided to study it. Even though no one has been expelled under the policy, several students are believed to have transferred because of it. One faculty member, Women's Studies professor Susan Thomas, worries that the policy "sets the university up for problems."

As a legal matter, I agree -- the policy does set the university up for problems under Title IX. As a private institution, Hollins's undergraduate program is exempt from having to comply with Title IX's prohibition on sex discrimination. But this exemption is, by its terms, limited to admissions. See 38 U.S.C. 1681(a)(1) ("in regard to admissions to educational institutions, this section shall apply only to institutions of vocational education, professional education, and graduate higher education, and to public institutions of undergraduate higher education.") Even if Hollins could legally exclude applicants because of their sex (either their natal sex, or their transitioned sex), this exemption does not give a women's college license to discriminate against students who have already matriculated by expelling them because of their transitioned sex. Nor does the exemption allow schools like Smith and Wellesley to discriminate against transgender students and alumni in the manners described above.

I hope that Hollins reconsiders this policy, in light of its legal, ethical, and educational shortcomings.