Murray Edwards College, one of the three women-only colleges in Cambridge University, has changed its admission policy to allow applicants who identify as female, the Telegraph UK reported yesterday.
The college stated on its website, “With so much gender inequality still in the world there is a role for a College able to focus on outstanding young women, their learning and skills for life.”
Previously, the college required all students to be legally defined as female.
The college council composed of academics and teaching fellows voted to change its entry criteria, accepting students who identify to be a woman at the point of application.
In a statement, the council said that the decision is grounded on the sympathy with the idea that gender is not binary and that narrow gender identities cause societal harms.
“In relation to current students, we consider each case on an individual basis, focusing on what is in the best interests of that individual, in full discussion with that student,” the statement reads. “Should the student decide that they would prefer to be in a mixed college if transitioning to male or if rejecting a binary gender category, the College would be fully supportive of a transfer.”
The decision drew mixed reception.
It was criticized particularly on the historical role of the college in addressing gender imbalance at Cambridge University.
World-renowned feminist and former Newnham lecturer Germaine Greer called the move ridiculous.
“It’s a silly situation, and I’m sure that Murray Edwards will have their own reasons,” she told The Daily Telegraph. “But it’s a difficult relationship, having a transgender person in an all-female environment. “If [Murray Edwards] really don’t believe that gender is binary, then they really shouldn’t be a single sex college. Their position is ridiculous. The only sane thing for them to do is to cease discriminating on the basis of assigned gender of any kind.”
University of Kent Dr. Joanna Williams that it marked the end of women-only spaces, and said, “If some women want to have a women-only space, if they choose to be there, they should have every right to do that… To then learn that you’re sharing your dormitory, your bathroom with someone who is biologically male is an infringement on your right to choose the right the educational environment you chose.”
Academics from the college responded in defense that while it does not change the status of the college as a single-sex institution, it recognizes the changing definition of women.
“Our position is very clear: we want to be open to all outstanding young women, and we felt that society is changing and there is greater understanding of the complexities surrounding gender,” senior tutor Juliet Foster said. “We felt that was therefore in line with our values to accept all women, including transgender people who identify as female.”
Murray Edwards president Barbara Stocking also shared the same position that society is evolving and that there is a greater understanding on the complexities of gender.
“In order that we remain true to our mission of being open to all outstanding young women we recognize that it is right for anyone who identifies as female, regardless of their born gender, to be able to apply to study with us,” she said.
Women’s Officer at Murray Edwards, Kate Litman, claimed that students were thrilled when they heard about the decision. She said that women presently still find themselves in environments where their achievements are not acknowledged or their voice heard.
“Murray Edwards fosters an environment which celebrates women and encourages us to reach our potential, and it is absolutely right that all women should have the chance to study here, no matter what gender they were assigned at birth,” she added.
It is also welcomed positively by Celia Macleod, chair of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES), a charitable organization for transgender and people who do not conform to a particular gender, who said that the decision respects and supports all gender diverse people.