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Gender policy integrated into Mills Strategic Plan

The Gender Identity and Expression Sub-Committee’s focus has developed further since their work last semester, as has their title. Last year, the committee was called the Transgender Inclusivity Task Force and focused on gathering data regarding best practices for gender inclusion. They have since produced the Report on Inclusion of Transgender and Genderfluid Students: Best Practices Assessment and Recommendations, which has now been integrated into the Mills College Strategic Plan.

The Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee is made up of Mills staff, faculty, and student members. The members come from various departments on campus, including the registrar’s office, the English department and APER. The chair of the Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee is Julia Oparah, the department head of Ethnic Studies. 

“These are all people who are doing this work really kind of over and above their core workload,” Oparah said. “The very fact that the committee is made up of people who are absolutely passionate and committed to this is significant.”

The sub-committee has set out several goals they hope to achieve. One of these goals is to lay out the framework for implementation of the recommendations created by the report by both addressing the ones that seem possible this year and identifying long-term projects that may take place over the next three to five years.

A Campanil infographic.
A Campanil infographic.

According to Julia Oparah the report  is now a part of the Strategic Plan. The strategic plan now includes a section titled “Creating an environment inclusive of all diversity,” which states that Mills has had a long tradition of challenging gender roles and inequality in ways that have “broken normative conceptions of gender.” The strategic plan also explains the importance of creating an inclusive climate for gender nonconforming students through the suggestions outlined by the committee’s report.

Mills needs to consider how it treats current and prospective gender-variant students, the Strategic Plan says.

“What’s really exciting about that is that it demonstrates that the administration of the college, the board and the students who really wanted this to happen are on the same page, and it’s now a part of [the College’s] strategic planning for the next five years,” Oparah said. “This defines how we direct our energies as faculty and staff on campus and how we direct our resources, so it’s critical that [this goal] is in there.”

Another goal of the sub-committee is to write a clear admissions and retention policy on transgender and gender-fluid students. The current admissions policy is case by case and states that Mills admits self-identifying women, though Oparah stated that this can often lead potential applicants to believe that they are ineligible to apply.

Sophomore Anna Pangilinan recently completed a research project about the campus climate regarding admissions and inclusion of transgender students at Mills. Pangilinan conducted a survey amongst students asking about their understanding of admissions policies for trans students as well as how they felt about transgender students at Mills.

“Eighty people responded and 71 of them said that they think we should have transgender students and that having transgender students on campus does support our mission as a college,” Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan also found that many students did not have a clear understanding of the admissions policies regarding transgender students. Of the 80 respondents, 30 said that they thought they knew what the policy was; however, Pangilinan noted that many of the respondents who thought they knew the policy were unable to explain it.

The Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee hopes to clarify some of the confusion regarding admissions policies for gender nonconforming applicants. The best practices report states that, “Mills should let academically eligible transgender and gender fluid students know they are welcome to apply and inform prospective students we are committed to embracing and retaining all admitted students, regardless of gender identity at the time of graduation.” 

The current admissions policy for transgender students is to admit them on a case-by-case basis.

In the report, the committee suggested that Mills creates “targeted literature for prospective transgender and gender fluid students” that will address concerns relating to the admissions policies and that Mills should provide admissions staff with training on the needs of transgender and gender fluid students and the policies regarding them, as well as several other ideas to help clarify the current admissions policies to prospective students. 

The sub-committee has also set out a goal to ensure that the gender identity and expression are included in Mills’ non-discrimination statement. Many women’s colleges do not include statements on gender because it raises concerns about gender-related restrictions for applicants; the Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee hopes to see Mills become one of the first to address the topic in their non-discrimination statement in a way that will be more inclusive but will not contradict our goal as a women’s college.

“I think that what we will produce will be a template for other womens colleges, and hopefully that will resolve that particular problem,” Oparah said. “Our goal here is for Mills to become a model for all women’s colleges nationally on best practices around transgender and gender fluid inclusion.”

By doing so, the sub-committee hopes to gain a spot for Mills on the list of top 10 trans-friendly campuses, which is published by an organization called Campus Pride. 

Oparah also stated that the Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee is working on several other tasks, such as the way documents are handled regarding name changes and preferred gender pronouns. The sub-committee recently hosted a workshop or alumnae about different gender identities and found that even older alumnae who attended were open to and interested by the subject.

The sub-committee hopes to host more workshops in the future, such as a workshop for faculty members that will help them learn to incorporate gender-related issues into their courses, and a workshop for advisors.

Oparah hopes that the Gender Identity and Expression sub-committee’s work will benefit not only transgender and gender fluid students, but others as well. For example, they hope to create a list of LGBTQ allies within each department for students to speak to when they have concerns. The report is currently visible on the Mills website, and students may also submit feedback regarding the report and concerns about the inclusivity of trans students. The sub-committee takes student feeback into account and addresses student concerns as much as possible.

“It was the energy of the students that made this happen,” Oparah said.

Laura Engelken, Co-Chair of the Diversity and Social Justice Committee and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life, hopes that other members of the Mills community will get involved.

“Ideally, it’s not that the committee does all of it, but helps raise awareness and helps provide resources, or suggestions so that the campus can move forward with in all diferent areas,” Engelken said. “Because diversity and social justice isn’t going to happen on campus if there’s just one committee. All of us from our different perspectives and our different knowledge and skills come together in our various circles.”