Lesbian and Transgender

N.Y. Women's School Offers Gender-Neutral Lesson

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Applicants to a women's school have only one gender category to choose: female. But Barnard College in New York City is increasingly friendly to gender-neutral students. This fall it offers its first gender-neutral housing.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Gender-neutral or "open" dorms may be increasingly commonplace on U.S. campuses, but they aren't expected at women's colleges, a presumably single-sex refuge.

This fall Barnard College for Women in New York will be shaking that notion up by offering its first gender-neutral housing on a trial-run basis. Students will have the option to select a number of co-ed doubles in one of five traditional residence halls on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

For Barnard student Simone Wolff, who claims a gender-neutral identity, that's a happy development.

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"This is a good step because we need housing to be comfortable for queer men and women, as well as trans students," Wolff told Women's eNews in a phone interview. "There's a lot of homophobia that goes on that they're uncomfortable with."

Other women's colleges are making similar modifications to what it means to be a "women's school."

Smith College, the 140-year-old women's college located in Northampton, Mass., has worked to rephrase the pronouns in their student government constitution, using more gender-neutral terms over previously specific language.

Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania founded a Transgender Advocacy Committee, run by professor Anne Dalke, and trans students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts created a group to discuss and share their personal experiences.

Barnard's gender-flexible policies, says Wolff, were due in a great part to Rey Grosz, a trans male student who enrolled in Barnard in the fall of 2007.

Grosz, whose fuller story was featured in The New York Times Magazine in March 2008, transferred to the co-ed Columbia University across the street after having a rough start at the women's college.

Grosz's roommates were uncomfortable with his gender identity, which led him to stay with a friend about six miles downtown at New York University and commute almost 45 minutes every day to school, reported The Columbia Spectator.

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