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Salem College debates how to handle transgender students

Salem College debates how to handle transgender students

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Editor's note: After this story appeared, several Salem students contacted the Journal to say that the alumnae's facts about the student they believe is the subject of the alumnae's email were incorrect. Jacqui Causey, a student and freelance journalist, said she and other students are unwilling to elaborate to protect the student's privacy. The Journal will be reporting for additional stories on the issue of transgender students at all-female schools and the issues surrounding that.

An undergraduate at all-female Salem College is asking to remain on campus after undergoing an operation in February to complete his transition to a man, a college alumnae says, and college officials are looking at whether to create a policy on transgender students.

Founded in 1772 by Moravians, Salem College is a four-year liberal-arts school for women. It has enrollment of 1,100 students, including men who are 23 and older who take undergraduate courses at the Fleer Center for Adult Education. However, only female students are allowed to live on campus, according to the school’s website.

Michelle Melton, a college spokeswoman, declined to identify the student who is becoming a man, citing federal educational privacy laws and Salem’s privacy policies.

The issue has upset Annie Webb, a 2005 Salem graduate, who sent an email to fellow alumnae on Jan. 5 that said a traditional student will be undergoing gender reassignment surgery in February — going from female to male – and plans to continue his education as a student living on campus.

Webb said she was concerned that if the transgender male student is allowed to remain at Salem College, the trustees might convert the college into a coed institution.

“Unfortunately, the feeling from other alumnae with whom I’ve spoken is that there is very little trust in the board or the administration to maintain Salem’s women college status,” Webb wrote.

Webb couldn’t be reached Friday to comment further on the concerns expressed in her email, which was sent to the Winston-Salem Journal from a third party, along with an email on the subject from President Susan Pauly to alumnae.

Charles Blixt of Winston-Salem, the trustees’ chairman, said Friday, “The board will not consider becoming a coed institution. This is the oldest women’s college in the country, and we intend to remain so.”

Blixt declined to discuss any specific policy the trustees might be considering and said they have no timetable for a decision but will get input from Pauly, alumnae and other constituents.

He said the 31-member board of trustees will consider options that adhere to Salem College’s mission of educating women.

“I don’t know whether we will decide on anything or develop a policy on transgender students,” he said.

Pauly acknowledged in a recent email to alumnae that the college’s faculty, staff and residential students were sent a questionnaire asking them in part, “In light of our mission to educate women, how do you view the issue of transgender students in the traditional college program at Salem?”

Salem College, like other American colleges and universities, is governed in part by Title IX of federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on gender. However, religious institutions are exempted from this provision, according to federal law.

Webb’s email said administrators are not communicating with alumnae regarding this issue.

“I am astonished and offended that the people who have been charged with the care of our college are working hard to keep us out of the conversation — a conversation that could very well shape the entire future of our school. This kind of secrecy, misdirection and outright avoidance is disgraceful and dishonest,” Webb wrote.

Webb wrote that the survey of faculty, staff and students hasn’t been available to the alumnae. She added that students have drawn up a petition, but administrators refuse to give it to the trustees.

Pauly’s email to alumnae encouraged them to express their views to the trustees.

“This is a highly complex issue,” Pauly wrote. “Like our alumnae, our board of trustees serves out of a genuine love for Salem.”

Pauly couldn’t be reached Friday to comment further.

Several women’s colleges across the country have adopted policies concerning transgender students, said Harper Jane Tobin, the director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, D.C. Some colleges, such as Salem, don’t have a policy, Tobin and Blixt said.

Tobin said the transgender male student should remain at Salem College.

“The student should finish his time at Salem College and be treated in a way that respects his gender,” Tobin said. “It’s not fair to punish someone who has come to terms about who they truly are.”

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