Hollins University (copy)

Hollins University is a private undergraduate women’s college in northeastern Roanoke County. Its graduate programs are open to women and men.

Hollins University announced Wednesday a new policy that will allow transgender students to graduate.

The new policy also loosens the restrictions for applicants. The private university in Roanoke County will consider for admission any undergraduate applicants who “consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth.” Applicants must identify themselves as a woman on their application materials and can speak with an admissions counselor if there are any discrepancies.

Trans men, individuals who were assigned female at birth but who now identify as male, are not eligible for admission. Individuals who identify as nonbinary, meaning a gender identity that’s not strictly male or female, also are ineligible for admission, according to the policy.

Hollins University enacted its first transgender policy in 2007. Under that policy, a person born male but who completed a full surgical transition to female could apply for admission.

The policy also allowed enrolled students to adopt a male identity, but if they took further steps to transition — taking hormones, having surgery or legally changing their names — they would only be able to finish the current semester before the university required them to transfer. The policy underwent minor revisions in 2013 and 2016.

The policy faced many critics who found it unfair and invasive. The change brings Hollins closer in line with policies adopted by other women’s colleges across the country. Alexandra Trower, chairwoman of the board of trustees, said the new policy closely follows one adopted at New York City’s Barnard College in 2015.

Now, Hollins no longer will require students who transitioned during their time at the university to transfer to another institution. And applicants no longer have to complete a full surgical transition to be eligible for admission.

The board adopted the new policy at its meeting Saturday. Trower said it is a modern step forward for the university. Hollins has approximately 645 undergraduate students and 145 students in its coed graduate programs.

“We are an institution that wants to support every single student, that cares about every single student, that wants every single student to reach their potential,” she said. “To penalize an individual for making the very difficult decision to transition and saying they have to leave their community, their friends, their teachers and leadership positions felt very much at odds with who we are.”

The board’s decision comes after a report from the university’s Transgender Policy Task Force, which was appointed in 2018 and included student, alumni and faculty representatives.

The task force consulted with experts and researched the policies of other women’s colleges to determine whether Hollins’ policy was adequate for the students, Trower said.

The board received the task force’s report in May and took the summer to conduct additional research. The board unanimously agreed the policy needed to change and students shouldn’t be forced to transfer.

Trower said the change recognizes gender plurality while still maintaining the university’s identity and commitment to being a women’s college.

“I’m very proud of this work and very pleased that this is going to be our new policy,” Trower said. “I think that a more inclusive campus is what the liberal arts education is all about and consistent with the ethos of Hollins.”

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Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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