Morehouse College approves transgender student enrollment policy

Morehouse College’s Board of Trustees voted Saturday to approve a proposal to formally enroll transgender students, a major step for the nation’s lone college dedicated to the education of African American men.

The college’s Gender Identity Admissions and Matriculation Policy applies to students who enroll there for the fall 2020 semester. Students currently enrolled are not affected by the policy.

The policy is a major step for Morehouse, the nation's lone college dedicated to the education of African American men. The college, located near downtown Atlanta, has about 2,200 students.

“I think this was important for the college to clarify our stance about who we admit and who matriculates,” Morehouse President David A. Thomas said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“In a rapidly changing world that includes a better understanding of gender identity, we’re proud to expand our admissions policy to consider trans men who want to be part of an institution that has produced some of greatest leaders in social justice, politics, business and the arts for more than 150 years,” Terrance Dixon, the college’s vice president of Enrollment Management, said in a statement. “The ratification of this policy affirms the College’s commitment to develop men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service.”

Morehouse’s policy requires all students to self-identify as men. If a student transitions from a man to a woman, that student will no longer be eligible to study at Morehouse. Exemptions from this rule may be granted by a three-person committee appointed by the college’s president after a written appeal is submitted by the student. Trans women, or individuals who identify as women regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth, will not be considered for admission.

Dixon said in an interview with the AJC that the college surveyed its 16,000 living alumni to get their thoughts about the proposed changes.

While Dixon called the decision “a great day for Morehouse,” administrators are aware not all share that viewpoint. He said administrators have emphasized to critics and those with questions that “we wouldn’t deviate from what Morehouse is, a place that educates men. Once we explained that, people didn’t have a problem with this.”

Thomas said, “It wasn’t an easy process, but by the time we got to the vote, we were in a position where everyone was on the same page.”

Many colleges and universities, and the federal government, have grappled in recent years with formal policies concerning transgender students. In 2016, the Obama administration announced guidance that schools let students use the restrooms and locker rooms that fit their chosen gender identity. A year later, the Trump administration rescinded that policy. Critics of the Obama administration guidelines cited concerns about safety associated with allowing students of different genders to use the same bathroom and locker rooms.

In Georgia, Spelman College, which is dedicated to the education of African American women, this school year started a policy to formally enroll transgender students. Morehouse and Spelman are part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium. Agnes Scott College, a women's college in Decatur, admits students who identify as female, transgender, agender, gender fluid or non-binary.

David A. Thomas, the 12th president of Morehouse College, is one of two presidents at the college who did not have ties to a historically black college or university before taking the role as president. The other president, Benjamin Mays, is displayed in an oil painting in the background. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

icon to expand image

Thomas said when he took office in January 2018 he wanted to implement a formal policy concerning transgender students. He consulted Spelman’s president during the process.

Dixon said the college will spend the next year doing more planning and discussing the policy with students, staff and others. Thomas said Morehouse will create a task force to explore what changes need to be made on campus, such as where to place gender-neutral bathrooms, and how the policy will impact the college’s athletics programs.