A women-only Cambridge college has changed its admissions policy to allow it to accept transgender students who identify as female.
The decision by Murray Edwards College, formerly known as New Hall, has been attacked by some feminists as illogical but welcomed by campaigners for gender diversity.
The college, whose alumni include the broadcaster Mishal Husain, the comedian Sue Perkins, and the actor Tilda Swinton, said it sympathised with the idea that gender is not binary and will support those who do not wish to define themselves as either female or male.
The college used to follow the admissions policy of Cambridge University’s two other women-only colleges, Newnham and Lucy Cavendish, which only accept applicants who are legally recognised as women.
But after a decision by its council, Murray Edwards will now be open to students who identify as a woman and have “taken steps to live in the female gender”.
Annoucing the change Dame Barbara Stocking, the president of the college, said: “We are a college that is open to all outstanding young women and so it is absolutely right, both legally and within our set of values, for anyone who identifies as female to be able to apply to study with us.
“There is now a greater understanding of the complexities of gender. In order that we remain true to our mission of being open to all outstanding young women we recognise that it is right for anyone who identifies as female, regardless of their born gender, to be able to apply to study with us.”
In a statement quoted by the Cambridge News, Stocking said: “Many of us within the college have sympathy with the idea that gender is not binary and have concerns that narrow gender identities and the expectations associated with them are damaging both to individuals and to wider society. At the admissions level, we will consider any student who, at the point of application, identifies as female and, where they have been identified as male at birth, has taken steps to live in the female gender.”
Germaine Greer, who has lectured at Newnham, described the decision as “ridiculous”.
“If they [Murray Edwards] really don’t believe that gender is binary, then they really shouldn’t be a single sex college,” she told the Telegraph.
Victoria Smith, a publisher who writes on the blog Feminist Current, made a similar point:
She said the decision would end women-only spaces at the college. She wrote: “Once a college’s admissions policy is based on an unverifiable inner sense of self – the kind of thing non-sophisticates call ‘personality’ – then it is no longer an exclusive space. Which is fine if you think any and all exclusion is bad, but ridiculous if you still want to cling on to an exclusive status.”
But Mermaids, a charity which supports gender diverse and transgender children and teenagers, thanked the college for “accepting and embracing all young women”.
Celia Macleod, the chair of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society also welcomed the decision.