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Mills community gathers to talk gender inclusivity

Nearly a year after becoming the first women’s college to officially admit transgender students, the Mills College community is still working to be more inclusive of transgender and genderfluid students.

At a March 11 open meeting, President Alecia DeCoudreaux updated the Mills community on the progress on recommendations made by the Report on Inclusion of Transgender and Genderfluid Students. The Gender Identity and Expression Sub-Committee created the report in 2013;  the report was then integrated into the College’s strategic plan, which identifies the College’s goals for 2013 – 2018.

During the open meeting, Associate Professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies Priya Kandaswamy said  that a major result of the report was a discussion on how gender inclusivity fits into Mills’ role as a women’s college.

“We really came to the understanding that as women’s college, our historical mission has been to educate and empower people who are marginalized by structures of gender, and that, moving forward with these recommendations, [which] is an expansion of that mission, is not contrary to that historical mission as a women’s college,” Kandaswamy said.

Some of the changes made in response to these recommendations include the official admissions policy for transgender students — shifting to gender-neutral language, allowing name changes on as many records as possible, and incorporating transgender studies into curriculums and creating opportunities for dialogue and training.

Other changes in progress include providing workshops for faculty and staff and updating the College’s non-discrimination policy to include gender identity. Mills is also currently working to provide more gender-neutral bathrooms. According to campus architect Karen Feine, the College is somewhat limited by code requirements.

According to Vice President of Enrollment Brian O’Rourke,  Mills is also pushing the Common Application Organization to better accommodate transgender and genderfluid students, as it currently only provides a ‘Male’ or ‘Female’ option on college applications.

Dean of Students Chicora Martin explained that inclusivity is important as it provides more opportunities for not only gender-variant students, but all community members.

“What we know about gender inclusive spaces is that they help all students,” Martin said. “They help all people of varying abilities; they help people who have kids who want gender inclusive opportunities.”

After providing updates, DeCoudreaux opened the floor for attendees to comment or ask questions.

Associate Professor of ethnic studies Vivian Chin suggested the use of gender pronoun cards in the classroom, which were initially used at Mills in 2011. Martin also spoke on the use of non-binary pronouns such as they/them, and the reluctance of some to acknowledge these non-traditional options.

“I’ve never been in a situation where grammar was more important than a person,” Martin said.

Junior Sonj Basha spoke about the importance of setting aside funding for diversity and inclusivity training, rather than relying on students to educate faculty.

“There needs to be actual funding for mandated training so that I, or someone else, as a student, can walk into any classroom … and know that the faculty and the staff are well equipped and trained in the way that is going to be sustainable [and] that doesn’t put the work on me,” Basha said.  

According to DeCoudreaux, there was no money in this year’s budget for said training, but there will be money allocated for the training in next year’s budget.

Junior Cheyanne Young, vice president and diversity and social justice chair of ASMC, discussed the inaccessibility of Mills’ grievance procedure and called for action to better address student experiences.

“Right now, we have a lot of students that are being injured on a daily basis and there is no public or accessible way for them to address that, and that’s not okay,” Young said. “… A lot of the student body who need that information doesn’t have access to it, doesn’t understand the grievance process, doesn’t know who their advocates are on campus and who their allies are, doesn’t know where they can go, doesn’t know where the safe space is.”

The Black Women’s Collective’s (BWC) List of Demands also calls for an overhaul of the grievance response policies. According to DeCoudreaux, the College will be working on creating a more streamlined grievance process.

According to Martin, the administration will continue to work on the recommendations made by the 2013 report, while engaging students through campus leadership and communication to achieve both long-term and short-term goals.