For hundreds of years, universities excluded women. Denied access to these institutions, they created their own. “Attempt great things,” the founder of Mount Holyoke, Mary Lyon, told her students. “Accomplish great things.” These schools, including the elite Seven Sisters — Mount Holyoke, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley — were where the nation’s most promising young women went to do just that.
But today, women’s colleges are at a crossroads their founders could never have foreseen, struggling to reconcile their mission with a growing societal shift on how gender itself is defined. A handful of applications from transgender women have rattled school administrators over the past year, giving rise to anxious meetings and campus demonstrations. On April 29, the Department of Education issued new guidance: Transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX.