"I think Morehouse having the courage to speak to issues of masculinity in today's environment is important," says Morehouse president David Thomas
The nation’s only historically Black, all-male college will begin admitting transgender men beginning in 2020, after a lengthy process led to the history-making policy change.
Morehouse College’s board of trustees approved the change on Saturday and school officials have announced that transgender men will now be allowed to enroll in the school for the first time next year.
“I think Morehouse having the courage to speak to issues of masculinity in today’s environment is important,” Morehouse president David Thomas told the Associated Press. “For 152 years, the world has, in some way, seen Morehouse as the West Point of Black male development.”
José Mallabo, vice president of strategic communications at Morehouse, tells PEOPLE that the decision is the culmination of a 15-month process in which school officials met with faculty, staff, board members, alumni and the college’s only openly transgender person.
“This process was as authentic and as genuine as any process I’ve ever been involved with,” Mallabo says. “Listening to student leaders voice their concerns and input, that’s a serious endeavor and I’m proud to say that was genuine. They were involved all the way to the last couple weeks of fine-tuning the language.”
The policy change comes as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks to roll back recognition for transgender individuals, gutting their protections under federal civil rights law, according to the New York Times. Morehouse’s decision follows in the footsteps of historically Black schools that have transgender policies, including Howard University, Tuskegee University, Florida A&M University and Spelman College, among others.
The policy states that students who identify as women but were born male cannot enroll and students who transition from man to woman while enrolled at Morehouse will “no longer be eligible to matriculate.” Additionally, the policy states that Morehouse will continue to use gendered language, including masculine pronouns.
Although many have praised Morehouse’s decision, some students take issue with the specifications.
Marquintas Oldham, a 21-year-old set to graduate in 2021, said they transitioned while they were enrolled at the school and identify as queer, non-binary, using “they” and “their” pronouns. Thus, Oldham told the New York Times that Morehouse’s use of gendered language will only further marginalize the school’s trans and non-binary community.
“Who I am on this campus, they are trying to kind of like remove me from self-identifying myself,” Oldham said. “They said in their policy that they are going to still use male-gendered language and that affects me. Sometimes I do dress as a feminine, non-binary person, so when I dress the way I want to dress and it’s a problem, that affects me.”
Similarly, 28-year-old Morehouse student Tatiana Rafael told the Times that she transitioned from male to female while enrolled and disapproves of the school’s decision to ban those like her.
“It is very lonely being the only transexual woman on campus,” Rafael said. “I feel erased and marginalized most of the time because the image that Morehouse presents is the all-male image, and in that image, they don’t make room for a trans woman.”
Mallabo stood by the school’s policy on trans women, and clarified that Morehouse plans to use gendered pronouns, but only on an “institutional level.”
“On an interpersonal level if a student wants to be referred to in some way other than he, him or his, we are and will do that,” Mallabo tells PEOPLE. “We respect an individual’s right to self-identify and will do so once a student asks us to use different pronouns on an individualized basis.”