Add ‘gender identity’ to anti-discrimination statement

By Editorial Board

Columbia’s anti-discrimination statement reads, “Columbia will not tolerate harassment or discrimination based on religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or ethnicity by or of its students, faculty, or staff.”

One category that is noticeably absent from the statement is gender identity. Should transgender students face discrimination, there is no guarantee they will receive the same protection against discrimination as other students under the categories outlined in the statement.

Gender identity is included in 498 colleges’ and universities’ non-discrimination statements, according to the Transgender Law & Policy Institute. Although Columbia is fairly progressive when it comes to sexual orientation, the college’s current policies affecting transgender students are embarrassingly out of date. Columbia does have a set of transgender inclusive policies ready to be implemented, Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Kelly told The Chronicle for this week’s issue, but there is no set date for when these policies will go into effect.

Residence Life at Columbia does not have an official policy for housing transgender students in accordance with their gender identity. Some colleges and universities offer housing options that address the needs of transgender students, such as Ithaca College in New York, where students can submit a special transgender housing request to specify what living arrangement would make them most comfortable. Columbia should have a process that considers the needs of transgender people in housing that makes them a priority.

Columbia’s transgender students also lack the ability to change their preferred name and gender on school records, which means their transgender status is revealed every time their name appears on an attendance sheet or email list. Transgender students shouldn’t be outed by their college email address, and they shouldn’t have to explain their gender identity to every teacher and hope they will be treated with the respect they deserve.

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, students can choose to display a preferred name on records seen by faculty and students without needing to have their name legally changed.

Trans-inclusive housing and bookkeeping policies still aren’t the norm at U.S. colleges, but the simple act of including transgender people in a nondiscrimination statement has already happened on campuses around the country, and it should happen here.

It could take time for an institution as large as Columbia to implement trans-inclusive policies for housing and college records, but it would take very little time and effort for it to update its policy on discrimination. Promising to officially treat transgender people with the same basic respect as everyone else is the bare minimum and would represent the college’s first step toward total equality on campus. Columbia should implement the transgender policies it has created as soon as possible, starting with the addition of gender identity to its anti-discrimination statement.