Columbia stands out as an exception in a state that is rated in the lowest category for LGBTQ equality by the Human Rights Commission, providing nondiscriminatory employment and health care for its transgender citizens. The colleges of this college town also lead the wave of progressive equality.
In fall 2019, Stephens College will allow more women to enroll by expanding its definition of womanhood and gender. It will now admit “students ... who identify and live as women,” according to the school’s FAQ page.
Following the lead of other women’s colleges, Stephens’ board of trustees unanimously approved the new policy in November 2018 and wrote that it had “recommitted to its singular mission of educating women.”
However, the school will also cease admitting and enrolling students who now identify as men or are transitioning from female to male, saying “it is logically consistent that it also acknowledges both sex and gender in its definition of manhood.” This means that while the college is accepting trans identities, current students who identify as men will no longer be able to attend the college.
Overall, Columbia was deemed one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the state, according to a 2017 study by the Human Rights Commission. The city scored a perfect 100 and earned points for providing municipal services for trans citizens. At MU Health, providers must ask for the sex a patient was assigned at birth but will use a patient’s preferred pronouns, according to its website. There are also 20 buildings on MU’s campus that contain gender-neutral bathrooms, the result of an attempt to create a more welcoming environment for people of all genders. In Missouri, trans individuals can change the gender listed on their driver’s license with a form signed by their health care provider.
Currently at Stephens College, there are students who do not fall into the gender binary of man or woman, and students say the school needs to do more to support them. Most of the potential resources for the Stephens LGBTQ community are found at MU, but it’s not very likely that Stephens students reach out to MU communities, says MJ Jonen, a Stephens senior studying creative writing.
It is crucial that Stephens students and faculty receive more education on LGBTQ issues, Jonen says. “Too often students have been misgendered after repeatedly stating their pronouns, and there has been nothing done about it.” Emile Eller, a Stephens fashion design student, has faced a similar struggle. “I don’t think, at an institutional level, Stephens takes the time to understand trans issues or support trans students,” Eller says. “It’s never the first thought.”
Despite growing pains, the wave of equality is getting stronger. In fall 2019, more of Columbia can “dream up,” as Stephens says.