An elite $33,000-a-year all-girls school in Nashville recently unveiled a policy that opens enrollment to transgender females. Harpeth Hall, which counts Amy Grant and Reese Witherspoon as alumni, recently issued a letter to parents declaring that the institution supports gender identity and ‘any student who identifies as a girl may apply to our school.’
The school said its decision to open enrollment to all individuals who identify as female emphasizes the institution’s continuing commitment to fostering an “inclusive educational environment.”
The Tennessee prep school claims that there has been ‘no change’ to the application for admission process, which is ‘open to any female student.’ The school reiterated that the new policy offers a safe space for its students to express their gender identity and remains centered around women.
Harpeth Hall’s new policy comes one month after a new state law was enacted, issuing harsh penalties to public schools that allow transgender athletes to participate in sports. The school is private and not necessarily bound to the new law, although the memo did not address the issue.
“As the world evolves, so do our students. The concept of gender has expanded and deepened over time,” the letter read. “The cultural dialogue around gender is evolving rapidly. At Harpeth Hall, we are inspired and guided by our girl’s school mission and work every day to live fully and truly into our purpose.”
The new policy followed meetings by the faculty, school administration, and the Board of Trustees’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee came together to understand gender identity better. The team read educational articles on the topic, spoke with other all-girls schools, and consulted with field experts before it decided to expand its admission policy.
The school’s parental letter provided short guidelines about admission but emphasized an individual basis for admissions and used open-ended language. “Harpeth Hall is a girls school. The school culture is unique and distinctly about girls, complete with the use of references to students as girls and young women and a collective use of female pronouns,” the letter stated.
In cases of students who use they/them pronouns or nonbinary students, Harpeth Hall said it would evaluate them individually, and the school will work with families to meet student needs.
The new policy also noted that students using he/him pronouns who identify as male cannot be ‘served’ by an all-girls school. The school stated it would work with families individually to determine the next steps for those students.
“We see this acknowledgment as the ultimate form of respect: an understanding that we support the individual and the student’s gender identity,” said the statement when addressing male transgender students at the school.
School officials defend the new policy
In an interview with The Tennessean, Jessica Bliss, director of marketing and communications at Harpeth Hall, said the school’s statement “does not reflect a change in the admissions policy.” She continued, “We are and always have been an all-girls independent school. There has been no charge to Harpeth Hall’s admission application process, which is open to any female student.”
Bliss explained that the policy offers students a safe environment to express themselves. “We teach girls to respect each other and appreciate their differences. Each girl is unique in her own way. Harpeth Hall fosters a community that is about kindness and belonging.”
There has yet to be a comment from Head of School Jess Hill on the new policy, but in an open letter on the school’s website touts a school community that “encourages academic curiosity, fosters belonging, and prepares girls to become purposeful young women ready to make a meaningful difference in the world around them.”
“At Harpeth Hall, girls learn to have confidence in their opinions and respect the power of their voices,” wrote Hill. “They also learn to listen for learning and understanding. Here, all students are seen, heard, and valued.”
The new state law was signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Lee and took effect July 1. It adds harsh penalties against public schools that violate the ban.