Most college students found the SAT’s math and vocabulary problems intimidating. But for Weinberg freshman Anna Morris, the test’s hardest question was the one that asked about gender.
Gender identity never really becomes an issue for many people. At birth, one is pronounced male or female based on anatomy, and most live with that distinction for the rest of their lives. While every transgender (often shortened to “trans”) person has a different experience, transgender people often are uncomfortable with the gender they have been assigned at birth, or find the gender role they are expected to fulfill different from what they want. While things as basic to a Northwestern student as the name that appears on their Wildcard or official transcript may not seem important, these things can make uncomfortable someone who doesn’t identify as strictly male or female.
The Northwestern Gender Protection Initiative has taken up the cause of adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of other designated protections in the Northwestern’s anti-discrimination policy. While ASG passed a resolution to protect gender in 2005, no binding legislation has since been passed. Students involved in the initiative point to the fact that Northwestern is one of only a few top-ranked American universities that don’t have a policy protecting gender identity and expression, according to GenderPAC’s 2007 Genius Report.
How things would change
The Initiative wants to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to Northwestern’s anti-discrimination policy to protect students. But a policy change could have other effects as well, from the pronouns on school documents to the kinds of housing available to students.
“When you’re searching the [Northwestern directory] website for my e-mail name, it would come up as Andrea Cray instead of Andrew Cray,” said Andy Cray, Communication senior and Rainbow Alliance activism chair, “which is really embarrassing when you’re doing interviews for newspapers.”
Currently, the university requires that official Northwestern documents show the name and sex that was on each student’s birth certificate — unless the student presents proof they’ve changed that information. But in some states, it’s impossible to change one’s given name or sex on a birth certificate, making difficult the prospect of altering one’s information at Northwestern. The Gender Initiative says students have experienced awkward situations with their Wildcards: To a person unaware of the student’s personal situation, the name they read on the card may not seem to reflect the individual standing in front of them. Diplomas and published research also come with the same restrictions on name changes.
Students at the Gender Initiative hope that putting “gender identity” and “gender expression” into Northwestern’s policy will start a conversation about other changes that could be made on campus to accommodate transgender people. Gender-neutral bathrooms or single-stall bathrooms and residential buildings that are more trans-friendly are among the Gender Initiative’s goals. Ideas include designating certain bathrooms throughout the campus as gender-neutral, and possibly designating one floor of one residence hall as gender-neutral as well.
Back to now
Many students involved with the Gender Initiative say the current policy doesn’t do enough for transgender people. McCormick junior Mykell Miller, technology chair of the Rainbow Alliance, said that Northwestern tried but could not provide a satisfactory housing arrangement.
“What ended up happening was that I lived for two years in a female suite as ‘the guy’ of the female suite,” Miller said. “And the housing issues were a huge part of why I live off campus now.”
Members of the Gender Initiative stress that protecting gender identity and expression helps all students.
“It affects everyone: a women’s soccer team that seemed too masculine, or girls that don’t fit exactly the sorority stereotype,” Miller said.
The initiative was scheduled to meet with William Banis, vice president of student affairs, on Nov. 29 to discuss the Gender Initiative’s plans and whether Northwestern policy will be changed. The Initiative has also been placing flyers throughout campus, printed with provocative questions like, “Do Genitals Make a Man?” Members of the group also shared their experiences during a fireside at Jones Residential College on Nov. 20.
The group also plans to paint the Rock to raise awareness of their cause and organize future events.
“Everybody has a way that they express their gender,” Cray said, “and everybody should be protected equally under university policy.”