After reading about attempts by other college campuses to better accommodate transgender students, Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland, Chair of Faculty Andrea Dobson and Associate to the President Jed Schwendiman proposed that Whitman make changes to become more trans-inclusive.
The list of proposed changes includes suggestions like removing Ms./Mr. from QUACK academic evaluations and pay statements, giving students the option to write their self-definition of gender on matriculation and employment forms, putting students’ preferred names rather than or in addition to their legal names on roll sheets, building gender neutral bathrooms in new construction projects and making it easier for transitioning students to change their gender in the college’s records.
A list of proposed changes has been composed and sent out to students in both GLBTQ and Coalition Against Homophobia so that students can provide feedback and give suggestions for other changes. Schwendiman said that responses have ranged from general support to specific suggestions or improvements. He encourages any student with suggestions or feedback about the proposals to e-mail him.
One long term change the college might be looking into is a different option for first-year housing.
“After the first year, students already have the option to pick whomever they want as a roommate. We will have to look into steps to extend gender neutral housing to first-year students,” Schwendiman said.
Schwendiman is optimistic that the college will be able to see results shortly.
“It’s nice to be at such a small school where changes can be implemented fairly quickly,” he said. “I’m excited to work on these recommendations and make tangible improvements this year.”
Cleveland believes it is important to make these changes because he anticipates an increase in the number of transgender students who might want to apply to Whitman.
“This population of students is increasing over time. Thirty years ago, it was often middle-aged people making the transition, but now many more people are transitioning at a younger age. It’s important that Whitman is welcoming and supportive of everyone,” he said.
This shift could result in an increase in transgender students at the college level, and Whitman wants to be proactive about supporting these students.
“We want Whitman to be the type of community that is prepared for such an increase,” Schwendiman said.
Cleveland also said that administrators are hoping to get the Student Life Committee more involved with the changes.
Liam Mina, president of GLBTQ and Coalition Against Homophobia, which also combats transphobia, is enthusiastic about these changes.
“The initial decision to suggest changes was all on the part of staff and faculty, and I think it’s fantastic that they took initiative on this issue without a lot of student prompting,” he said.
Mina believes that implementing many of these changes, like allowing students to use their preferred names on various documents and removing Ms. and Mr., will be simple. He also has another suggestion.
“Something else I think is really key is education. It’s really important that non-trans people know how to be good allies to trans people and know what sorts of questions are okay and not okay to ask, what sorts of terminology are appropriate to use,” he said.
One step towards a greater campus-wide understanding of gender is the gender and sexuality workshops in first-year residence halls during October. Cleveland hopes they are a step toward better educating students on gender issues.
Mina is supportive of the administration’s decision.
“It’s important to make these changes because they will help make Whitman a more accessible place to transgender people,” he said. “Trans people tend to have enough stresses to deal with; they shouldn’t be expected to have to blindly fight their way through an unaccommodating system simply to ensure that their identities are respected. Whitman prides itself on diversity, and making the school more trans-friendly is one of the ways that it can actually show its commitment to diversity.”