Gender Policies at an All Women’s Institution
Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Since the founding of Meredith College in 1891, it has been identified as an all women’s academic institution. However, in recent years society has become more open about discussing gender expression, which has led to questions regarding the admissions policies at gender specific institutions like Meredith. To uncover more about Meredith’s policies, The Herald conducted multiple interviews about admissions policies and how they reflect the changes in gender expression and society.
Director of Admissions Shery Boyles noted that “this question comes annually” and comes from many different sources such as students, alumnae and the community. According to Boyles, Meredith’s current admissions policy is that “Meredith seeks to enroll students who will benefit from the total educational program of the College. Each applicant is evaluated carefully on the basis of academic preparation, scholastic ability, character, purpose and motivation. Admission is competitive and offered to qualified women applicants without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation or age.” If any changes were to be made, it would require a lengthy process that would include many different facets of administration, including consulting the Board of Trustees.
When asked about the admission of non-traditional Meredith students, Boyles stated that “we are an all women’s institution…we admit qualified women.” Boyles did say that at times, mostly during North Carolina college application week, students who identify as male submit an application. When this happens, the admissions team reaches out to the applicants to inform them that Meredith is an all women’s college, rather than deny them. In the same conversation, Boyles indicated that the Office of Admissions’ main goal is to help students. She also said, “I can tell you we would help that student, find that best fit for that student. I do not know what that best fit would be,” in relation to applicants who do not identify as women.
During the admissions process, Meredith does not require a student to “check a box” indicating that they are female. Boyles stated that “when a student tells us who they are, we trust them.” The applicants are not required to submit a birth certificate; according to Boyles, the only form that students have to submit with their gender listed on it is the FAFSA. The FAFSA offers the options of male and female for “gender,” and those who were assigned male at birth are required by the FAFSA to register with the Selective Service System. However, when asked about the admission of students who were assigned male at birth and now identify as female, Boyles did not wish “to speak on hypotheticals.”
The Herald also spoke to Director of Residence Life Heidi LeCount about the living arrangements for students who are not cisgender females. LeCount shared a story about a student that has since graduated from Meredith. When that student was admitted to Meredith, they used she/her pronouns, but throughout the student’s time at Meredith they grew to realize that they identified as male. He then went to LeCount and told her of his identification and from there they worked together to make the remainder of his time at Meredith the best it could be.
LeCount also identified unisex bathrooms on campus. “In Harris there is a women’s room and a single bathroom for men that was changed into unisex,” she said, and she believes that there is one in the Cate Student Center as well. She thinks that Meredith is a good place for non-cisgender students. “We are a small campus… [we can] work with students on their individual options. Suite style [residence rooms] help a lot of people... [students] don’t have to use a community bathroom.” When speaking about the comfort that she strives to make students feel, LeCount mentioned that there are designated safe rooms on campus. If a student were to no longer feel safe or comfortable in their residence, they could be taken to one of these rooms at any time of day or night by calling Campus Police at (919)-760-8888.
When The Herald asked President Jo Allen for a quote, she said, “We respect our students who express different gender identities. Students are not required to disclose private health matters whether related to gender transition or gender identity. A student’s decisions related to gender identity do not have any impact on enrollment after admission or on graduation. Our goal is always to treat each student equitably and justly.” Shery Boyles paralleled this thought and added, “We try to treat people as equitably and justly as each individual can and hopefully we get even better as time passes.”
The term "all women's institution" was used in this article because of how interviewees spoke about Meredith College and its policies. The Meredith Herald staff recognizes that non-binary people and trans men also attend Meredith College. Therefore, the more correct way to refer to Meredith is as a "historically women's college."
Update (Nov. 17, 2020): Director of Admissions Shery Boyles has added that "when students apply to colleges or universities, including Meredith, certain demographic information is collected, including whether they are male or female. This is true for students utilizing a variety of applications for college including The Common Application, The Coalition Application or our Meredith Application."
By Elinor Shelp-Peck, Co-Editor in Chief, and Mia Shelton, Staff Writer