Proposed UMN policy on gender expression under consideration

The policy would require University members and units to use an individual’s gender identity, expression, name and pronouns.

by Helen Sabrowsky

In response to a growing number of University of Minnesota members publicly identifying as gender nonconforming, a new policy would require members to use an individual’s preferred pronouns, gender and name.

The draft was written to address faculty concerns and improve the campus environment for gender nonconforming students. The administrative policy is currently receiving feedback from student groups and University governments – and hopes to present it to the University Senate next fall.

The draft allows for University members to specify their gender identity, names and pronouns, and requires departments and colleges to take “reasonable steps” to maintain the privacy of biological identifying information.

The University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action has received an increasing number of questions from departments who are interested in supporting transgender and gender nonconforming community members, said Gabrielle Mead, the assistant director of the department.

This policy ensures the University is able to provide consistent guidelines to these questions, she said.

A number of University organizations collaborated to write the policy, including the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life and the EOAA, Mead said.

On Monday, at its monthly meeting, members of the Council of Graduate Students raised concerns over perceived vague language.

Members said they fear it could lead to misinterpretation of the policy. COGS members also called for more specific consequences for University members who fail to follow the policy, and additional information on how noncompliance will be addressed.

Currently, the policy does not outline consequences for failing to follow it.

The Queer Student Cultural Center, whose members also gave feedback on the draft, believe the policy is a step forward for the University, said member Eli Fleck.

“I think it’s a great policy, especially with the updates to MyU and creating avenues for students to communicate their identity and pronouns without having to send a direct email to the professor, which can be daunting,” he said.

In July, University students and employees will be able to add preferred pronouns and gender identities to MyU.

Many transgender and gender nonconforming students face discrimination and harassment, and policies like this are a step in the right direction, said Shane Windmeyer, the executive director and founder of Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization focused on creating safer college environments for LGBTQ students.

“The very first time a professor uses the wrong name or pronoun, it creates an environment where the individual doesn’t feel comfortable,” he said.

In 2014, concerns were raised over professors calling transgender students incorrect names. Later that year, the University began allowing students to include their preferred name in University online systems.