The day-to-day pressures of college are hard on all of us. But many transgender students face the added burden of having their gender identities constantly misunderstood and questioned. In a move intended to ease the extra burden and assure more transgender rights, the University announced last week that it will allow students to use their preferred names on class rosters, CTools accounts and MCards. This new policy will help create a more tolerant, comfortable atmosphere for the transgender community, but it should not be the end of the University’s evaluation of how its policies affect transgender people.
In 2005, a subcommittee appointed by the provost recommended that the University begin to accept students’ preferred names. Nearly two years later, the subcommittee’s recommendations have started to finally trickle down into policy. By the end of the month, current students and faculty will be able to enter a preferred name on Wolverine Access. Next fall, they will be able to request a new MCard with that preferred name. New students will be able to enter a preferred name at registration in about a year.
Allowing transgender students and faculty to use their preferred names eliminates instances of confusion and takes away the stress of having to explain one’s gender expression every time you check out books or watch a film at the library. In recognizing a major need of the transgender community, the University has advanced its goal of creating a tolerant, respectful and open atmosphere for faculty and students alike.
Permitting the use of preferred names is a significant gesture, yet there are many areas – both symbolic and tangible – where the University can create a more comfortable atmosphere for the transgender community. An important change that should be made immediately is the inclusion of the phrase “gender identity and expression” in the non-discrimination clause of the University bylaws. While the University maintains that the bylaws already legally prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression, adding the phrase would serve as a sign of respect. Including the phrase does not change University policy, but by excluding it, the University comes across as oblivious, insensitive and unsupportive of transgender rights.
The University can also promote and foster a tolerant atmosphere by providing more tangible amenities. More gender-neutral housing and co-ed bathrooms would certainly benefit the transgender community. Schools like the University of Colorado and Swarthmore College have already adhered to such requests and instituted co-ed on-campus housing.
Currently, transgender students at the University can choose to live in gender-neutral housing on North Campus, but those who want to live on Central Campus find their choices much more limited. University Housing has worked to provide at least one unisex bathroom in each dorm, but Housing officials have yet to discuss plans for co-ed housing. The creation of co-ed dorms would not only answer the demands of increased student housing, it would also create a comfortable environment for transgender students.
The University should work to provide the community with resources to truly offer an open, tolerant environment where everyone is equally comfortable and respected.