Initiative benefits students across gender spectrum

Columbia is known by its students for its diversity and inclusiveness—a reputation the college will strengthen this fall as the Office of Multicultural Affairs launches its Gender Inclusive Initiative across campus.

Some parts of the initiative existed prior to this academic year, such as allowing informal name change requests and providing a limited number of all-gender restrooms on campus, but the initiative will expand those by creating more all-gender restrooms and broadening opportunities for people to ask about and provide examples of preferred personal pronouns, according to the Multicultural Affairs’ website. The initiative is a progressive and important step forward, and other colleges and universities should take note.

The Gender Inclusive Initiative and Residence Life websites also emphasize the college’s gender inclusive housing. However, little information is available, such as a clear definition of such housing or which dorms offer it. By supplementing the information available, the college will give students a better idea of what it has to offer. 

Pronoun awareness flyers have been posted around campus buildings and dorms. They provide essential information, such as how to ask for someone’s preferred pronoun and why it is important to do so. More valuable than the posters’ content is the sheer visibility and attention the flyers draw to gender identity and pronoun awareness. They could even help attract new students, as prospective students on tours who seek a diverse campus will see tangible evidence of Columbia’s inclusiveness.

The college could better reach all students by incorporating preferred pronoun resources into its Student Handbook. Colleges such as Vanderbilt University, Hampshire College and Central Connecticut State University already include information about preferred first names and pronouns in these publications. Every student might not read the handbook from front to back, but including the information makes a statement that the college stands for inclusiveness and takes steps to ensure it.

Brown University’s orientation includes an activity titled “Engaging Diversity at Brown and Beyond.” Columbia could also consider adding a similar component to its orientation to educate incoming students about various genders, sexualities and backgrounds they will encounter during their time at the college. Students come to Columbia from all over the world, including less progressive and accepting communities. 

Students who have not had personal experiences with peers who identify across the gender spectrum might be less knowledgeable or sensitive regarding gender identity. In these instances, education is key. Students who identify outside of the gender binary are frequently asked repetitive questions about identity, gender and sexuality. By creating more resources for allies to learn and engage with gender-fluid and genderqueer peers, all communities will benefit.  

Normalizing the use of preferred pronouns is also critical to ensuring all students feel safe and respected. A Sept. 8 Student Loop email publicized the Gender Inclusive Initiative and provided a practical format for including preferred pronouns in email signatures. Professors can take the initiative one step further by asking students to include their preferred pronouns when presenting introductory information about themselves, such as their name and major. Students can also add their preferred pronouns to their profiles on Moodle, which provides a permanent reference for their professors and peers.

Student organizations should utilize Multicultural Affairs’ name tag and button templates that include a space to write preferred pronouns.

In this instance, the college’s actions speak louder than words. Multicultural Affairs’ Gender Inclusive Initiative ensures Columbia’s diversity and inclusiveness will continue to evolve and make all students feel safe and welcome on campus.