Women’s college Saint Mary’s now accepts transgender applicants

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Dive Brief:

  • Saint Mary’s College, a historically women’s Roman Catholic institution in Indiana, will consider transgender women for admission into its undergraduate programs, beginning in fall 2024.
  • College spokesperson Lisa Knox confirmed the new practice in an email Tuesday. The change came about after Saint Mary’s governing board in June amended its nondiscrimination policy to reflect that the institution will review all undergraduate applicants “whose sex is female or who consistently live and identify as women.” Anyone can apply to its graduate programs.
  • The move drew backlash from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, in Indiana. Rhoades said in a public statement Monday that Saint Mary’s should reverse its rules.

Dive Insight:

Mills College, in California, was in the vanguard of college admissions when it became the first women’s institution to formally consider transgender applicants in 2014.

Since then, many of the roughly 30 women’s colleges still active in the U.S. have moved to loosen their admissions rules around transgender and nonbinary applicants. But these policies can vary widely, and they sometimes don’t extend to transgender men. 

Saint Mary’s is a prominent liberal arts campus of roughly 1,500 students that was founded in 1844 by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. It’s part of a triad with two other nearby Catholic institutions, the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College, which are both co-ed. The institutions share resources, including student clubs.

This policy change stands out amid the political attacks that have ramped up against transgender people in recent years. Several conservative-led states have restricted transgender rights through legislation, including regulating which restrooms they can use.

Saint Mary’s declined a request for an interview Tuesday. But Bishop Rhoades said in his statement that the university is buying into an ideology that “separates sex from gender and claims that sexual identity is based on the subjective experience of the individual.”

“This ideology is at odds with Catholic teaching,” he said.

Saint Mary’s desire to “show hospitality” to transgender people is not a problem, Rhoades said. Rather, he said he took issue with the college eschewing the Catholic definition of a woman.

“I urge the Board of Trustees of Saint Mary’s College to correct its admissions policy in fidelity to the Catholic identity and mission it is charged to protect and to reject ideologies of gender that contradict the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the human person, sex and gender,” he said.



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