Changes to transgender policies coming to campus soon

A committee of  Trinity faculty, students and staff have been drafting policies concerning the accommodation of transgender students on campus over the past school year.

The initiatives began last fall at the request of Danny Anderson, president of the university. The policies cover multiple issues, including housing, athletics, student life, bathroom access, changing records to preferred names and accessibility to resources.

“The committee … is working on a number of things,” said Richard Reams, associate director of Counseling Services and head of the committee. “This includes a clear statement about housing-related policy and procedures. Around athletics … participation and access to participation for trans students is well under way, and we’ve developed a comprehensive statement for the university about inclusion for trans students. We’re working on a statement regarding access to bathroom use and we’re in the process of having the single-user restrooms reassigned to indicate all-user restrooms.”

Many of the policies are still works in progress, but the committee hopes that they will be in place by the fall of 2017.

“The idea is that it is sort of rolling in a way,” said Andrew Kania, associate professor of philosophy and committee member. “Some of the other changes just take longer, in terms of if it actually has to become university policy, or if it has to go through levels of the administration. Since it came from the top, I think it will happen as quickly as these things can.”

A few of these policies, such as school records, may require more time than others.

“Some of us will be getting together after graduation to figure out how to change records for chosen names,” Reams said. “We’ve been really limited in terms of class rosters, for example, by the software system that we use at the university. It’s about to get an upgrade from its provider that is going to permit students to specify their chosen name. We’re waiting to see what exactly it’s going to look like, but that’s coming.”

Amy Stone, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, is also on the committee to help shape policy. Her experience working with a transgender support group on campus alongside Reams and Counseling Services has allowed her to hear about the issues concerning transgender students firsthand.

“A lot of schools are developing these policies and it’s something Trinity should be doing,” Stone said. “At the moment, it’s sort of a case-by-case basis, people who know where to go and who to ask for things get those accommodations, but I think it should be more transparent about what the university policies are. This university is pretty accommodating, especially around residential life and whatnot, so it would be really good if students knew that and knew where to find information about it.”

Part of the committee’s plan to make policies more accessible is to set up a web page listing important information for students.

“My ultimate vision is that this summer we develop a web page that is a comprehensive, one-stop location for policy and procedures, restroom locations, educational information, resources and so forth,” Reams said.

Trinity’s decision to include all-user restrooms came before Texas passed a bill requiring all persons to use the bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificates while in public schools or government buildings. However, as a private institution, Trinity does not fall under this bill.

“The bathroom bills are a sex panic,” Stone said. “It’s something that’s only loosely based on an actual problem. Many states and cities and schools have had trans-positive laws about bathrooms for decades and there have been no problems. To have a solid policy, I think, is reassuring for students and it fits more where the actual problems are, which is that, for many trans people, it is hard for them to find bathrooms they can safely use.”

Tim O’Sullivan, interim associate vice president for academic affairs and Trinity’s Title IX coordinator, worked with the committee to ensure that the policies are non-discriminatory. O’Sullivan clarified what this means for Trinity University after the Trump administration rescinded the Dear Colleague letter of 2016 that included guidelines to accommodate transgender students.

“As I understand it, Title IX in 2015 clarified that discrimination based on gender identity qualified as sex discrimination,” O’Sullivan said. “The only thing that has changed with the “˜Dear Colleague’ letter of 2017 that the [Office for Civil Rights] issued … was specifically rescinding the Dear Colleague letter of 2016 that specified that all institutions that receive federal funding had to allow students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.”

“So, transgender rights are still recognized by Title IX, but they’ve pulled back that one piece of it, which is the bathrooms,” O’Sullivan said. “If you think about it, all that means is that they don’t require universities that receive federal funding to provide those bathrooms for students. They don’t say the opposite, which is that you are forbidden to do so, which is why we’re going ahead with this policy.”

The adjustments to Trinity’s transgender policies will be just one example of the inclusiveness the university hopes to foster.

“It’s certainly needed,” Reams said. “To be able to have all of this in place and clear, including for prospective students, is going to be a great step forward.”