When Dylan Kapit ’16 (they/them) was a student on campus, they were heavily involved in advocacy and activism for trans students. That included the push for gender-inclusive bathrooms in all campus buildings and championing the expansion of the admissions policy to include trans women

Dylan posing in front of Barnard Hall with a bright blue sweater on,

Today, Dylan is Barnard’s inaugural LGBTQ+ outreach coordinator. “I’m thrilled to be back at Barnard in a professional capacity so that I can continue to advocate for trans students on campus and help provide faculty and staff with best practices for supporting trans students,” they said. 

In honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility, celebrated annually on March 31, Dylan spoke with Katherine Nessel ’23 (she/her) about her experience as a trans woman at Barnard. “Since I played a role in making sure that Barnard’s admissions policy is inclusive of trans women,” Dylan said, “it is especially exciting for me to be able to talk with Katherine.” Check out their conversation below. 

Dylan Kapit: What are some words you’d use to describe your identities?

Katherine Nessel: I would say I’m simply a woman who happens to be trans.

What drew you to Barnard? 

Katherine posing in front of Milbank wearing a striped shirt and sweater.

KN: Barnard felt like the perfect place to embrace my femininity and grow in a supportive community. Affirming my femininity has proven a struggle, so I was attracted to Barnard because it is a historically women’s college focused on uplifting those marginalized by their gender. I was encouraged that I could find other trans and queer folks, considering Barnard’s connections to Columbia University and to the larger New York City community. I am originally from the City, and I knew I needed to live somewhere where I could walk and bike around an urban landscape that felt diverse and inviting for me to unapologetically be myself. In this regard, New York City surpasses all other places, and I’ve found Barnard’s campus to be a safe space.

What has your experience been as a trans woman attending a women’s college? 

KN: Overall, I have found my fellow students quite accommodating and supportive. I have voiced my personal experiences as a trans woman in multiple classes and have largely been met with respectful curiosity from my peers. I have been able to seek out support by building friendships with both LGBTQ+ and cishet students who understand aspects of my gender dysphoria. Only two other transfeminine people have attended Barnard, so I can feel a bit isolated seeing very few people who share my identities. However, I’m especially grateful to have found support from my girlfriend, Noelle Hunter CC ’22, who is also trans.

Do you have any advice for other trans women who might want to apply to Barnard?

KN: I sincerely hope that more trans women will come to Barnard, and I strongly encourage trans women in high school to apply to join this special community. While the pillars of support are still being built for trans women, you can seek out support from exceptional peers and faculty. The growing transmasculine and nonbinary communities on campus provide a strong reservoir of solidarity to succeed here. Barnard is a place where you can be yourself and feel secure; I have not felt physically unsafe navigating the majority-female spaces at Barnard, and I feel particularly welcomed among the diverse crowds of New York City.

What message(s) would you like to send to the Barnard community? 

KN: I am appreciative of those in the Barnard community who have embraced me with open arms. To my friends who listen to my struggles as a trans woman and provide support with my medical journey, thank you. I hope that with a larger presence of trans women on campus, the Barnard community can come to view trans students not just solely as transmasculine and nonbinary students but also recognize and embrace the trans women brave enough to assert their femininity in this space. It took courage to make the jump to Barnard, and I hope that all my cis peers and the administration will not only accept trans women here but also feel honored that trans women have chosen to embrace their femininity in this environment.

For more resources, visit the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being, Barnard’s new centralized hub for all wellness-related initiatives across campus. The Francine LeFrak Center supports the entire College community with a 360-degree perspective of personal well-being: physical, mental, and financial.

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