With several universities around the country responding to evolving views on gender identification, plans for similar action at Yale are in the works.
Last week, The New York Times reported on the University of Vermont’s groundbreaking decision to formally recognize a third gender option, “neutral,” on university documentation. Meanwhile, Yale’s Office of LGBTQ Resources has continued to push for progress in increased gender-neutral identification and integration. Maria Trumpler, director of the office, said that, though she has been working toward these ends for over a decade, there remains much to be done. Students in the affected communities echoed these sentiments.
“Yale is committed to allowing students to use any first name and any gender marker for any lists or IDs internal to Yale,” Trumpler said. “[Although] we are a bit behind University of Vermont on implementation, the commitment is there.”
One of the office’s major initiatives has been to establish the option for each student to be able to determine the first name and gender that appears on University paperwork. Further, the system would offer separate identification labels: gender identity and gender. The former would be used for internal University records and would offer students five options — male, female, transgender, genderqueer and unidentified.
“Gender,” on the other hand, would apply to federal financial aid forms, social security and national accrediting bodies such as law boards. The only options for gender would remain male and female in accordance with external standards.
Beyond implementing increased options for gender identification, the Office of LGBTQ Resources also works on a personal level with students who are transitioning.
“If a student talks with me about a non-binary gender identity or a gender transition, we work out how to communicate with faculty and ask them to use the correct name and pronouns,” Trumpler said.
The emphasis on non-traditional pronoun usage also reflects a growing national trend led by the University of Vermont, where the use of “they” and “ze” are commonly accepted for gender-neutral individuals, The Times article noted.
Adrien Gau ’17 said in an email that they prefer to be referred to as “they,” “them” and “their,” which they consider to be the more conventional option, rather than “ze” in order to make their non-binary presence “less controversial.” Still, Gau said, the education of non-traditional pronoun usage is important for the Yale community, adding that awareness helps gender transitioning students feel more comfortable self-identifying as “they” or “ze.”
English professor Ardis Butterfield, who has not had direct experiences with gender transitioning students, said the limits of the English language make it difficult to find a suitable pronoun.
“A new pronoun? That’s so difficult in English,” she said. “Because we do have a gender neutral pronoun ‘it,’ but it is not used [for] people without seeming rude.”
While Yale has decided to expand gender-neutral housing to sophomores beginning next fall, the Office of LGBTQ Resources has continued efforts to create an accepting environment for gender-neutral students, including a project to install at least one “All Genders” restroom in 85 percent of Yale’s buildings by the end of this school year.
During the LGBTQ Co-op’s Monday meeting, several members suggested a range of initiatives the University could pursue in order to foster a more welcoming and educated community, including educating professors on non-binary gender identifications, providing better supporting for students in gender transition and inserting a “neutral” option or a “fill-in-the-blank” spot in online forms.
Co-op Coordinator Rianna Johnson-Levy ’17 said that, though the gender-neutral housing and bathrooms projects have generated momentum, Yale should aim to clearly communicate that it is “taking steps for gender non-conforming students.”
Even so, the general consensus within the group was that freshmen should also be given the gender-neutral housing option.
Co-op Treasurer Max Goldberg ’17 said he experienced a lot of debilitating homophobia his freshman year when placed in a male housing, and taking away the option of gender-neutral housing denies students freedom and causes pain.
The Times article also noted that roughly 100 universities allow students and employees to self-identify their first name.