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Should an all-girl school have the right to decline trans admissions?

Sticky wicket. I think we should be supportive of folks who are transgender. Does that mean they can compete fairly in women's sports...probably not. Can there still be schools that are all biological male or female? Doesn't seem unreasonable.

A Catholic College Defines ‘Woman’

St. Mary’s in Indiana backtracks from a decision to admit transgender males.

By Nicole Ault, WSJ

Feb. 22, 2024 1:20 pm ET

If Macy Gunnell, a sophomore at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., hadn’t been listening during her shift at the school’s admissions office, she might have missed the news: The all-women’s Catholic college was planning to admit trans-identifying men the next academic year.

That would have undermined 180 years of school tradition, not to mention centuries of church teaching. Since the Sisters of the Holy Cross founded the college in 1844, it has admitted women only. “What alarmed me about the policy is the fact that it was not in accordance with the school’s foundations” or “basic” Catholic principles, Ms. Gunnell says.

The Board of Trustees approved the policy in June 2023, and President Katie Conboy said she announced “an update” at a presemester event in August. But it was news to students and alumnae when Ms. Gunnell began getting the word out in November. What happened next didn’t follow the typical campus script. The administration backtracked—in the face not of a left-wing mob but of conservative calls to stick to principle.

After learning of the policy, Ms. Gunnell and Claire Bettag, a junior, got to work. They put up posters across campus that quoted Genesis 1:27: “Male and female he created them.” A parent started a Facebook group for students, alumnae and others to express concerns, and hundreds joined. Someone anonymously circulated a petition calling for the administration to reverse course, which received more than 21,000 signatures. For these efforts, Ms. Bettag says she faced considerable pushback: “I’ve had girls come up to me and threaten to ‘just watch out’ and ‘watch my back.’ ”

Yet the duo’s resistance soon received reinforcement. “Saint Mary’s departs from fundamental Catholic teaching on the nature of woman and thus compromises its very identity as a Catholic woman’s college,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend wrote in a Nov. 27 statement. The bishop added that his duty is to “promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening” of the college’s Catholic identity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his/her sexual identity.”

The transgender-admissions policy wasn’t the first sign of St. Mary’s departure from a “Catholic identity.” Ms. Conboy, who assumed office in June 2020, issued a “strategic plan” that commits the college to “achieve a culture of human dignity and solidarity” by creating an “office for Student Equity” and a “space to support LGBTQ+ students.” That’s consistent with the school’s curriculum, which according to an online catalog includes courses called “Queer Theology” and “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies.” The blueprint also intends to “promote spiritual offerings from the world’s diverse faith traditions.”

Much of the faculty opposed the students’ resistance to the policy, Ms. Gunnell says, and for a time it seemed as if the administration wouldn’t budge. Ms. Conboy initially defended the decision. “The revised policy demonstrates our commitment to providing an inclusive environment that responds to the needs of all women,” she wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to campus. But a month later, she backed down.

Though “we viewed it as a reflection of our College’s commitment to live our Catholic values as a loving and just community,” she and the board chairwoman wrote in a Dec. 21 email, “we clearly underestimated our community’s genuine desire to be engaged in the process of shaping a policy of such significance.” They promised “listening sessions” to “explore what it means to embrace our values.” The college’s future, they wrote, is “profoundly informed by our journey toward equity, inclusion, and justice.” (Ms. Conboy and a college spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

The Rev. Daniel Horan, director of the college’s Center for Spirituality, posted the following day, in a since-deleted tweet: “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. . . . Instead of denying the existence and experience of others, perhaps you might try learning.”

Meanwhile, a group of alumnae have formed the Loretto Trust, named after a shrine replica on campus, to keep the college accountable to its mission. “We will respectfully oppose policies and campus activities that are at odds” with the college’s articles of incorporation requiring it to adhere to Catholic “tradition, teaching, and Canon Law,” the group stated in a letter. An alumna also started a petition calling for Ms. Conboy’s impeachment, which has nearly 400 signatures.

Commitment to Catholic teaching on sex is what distinguishes St. Mary’s from nearly all colleges across the country. Twenty-three women’s colleges admit “at least some” transgender-identifying students, according to Campus Pride, a national pro-transgender organization, while only three don’t. The outcry over the policy shows there’s demand for a school that’s different because it’s firm in its faith and principles.

“We didn’t want St. Mary’s just to be following the crowd,” says Susan Powers, a 1981 graduate and member of the Loretto Trust effort. “Part of our attraction” is that “we find that we’re unique.”

Ms. Ault is an assistant editorial page writer at the Journal.

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