Posted on Tue 23 Feb 2021 at 08:27 by Francesco Masala
Commitments around equality, diversity and inclusion must be followed up by tangible action to improve the lives of those in our community that struggle the most. Without that, the promises made are hollow and void of any meaning. A significant number of the SU’s priority campaigns this year have centred around improving the university’s record on equality, diversity and inclusion, and officers have taken the lead on campaigns centred around reporting of sexual harassment, decolonising the curriculum, and providing job opportunities and support for students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. Within the Top Ten, I have taken the lead on a campaign I feel deeply passionate about: to work with the University to enact a transgender policy for all students and staff.
Trans, non-binary and gender diverse students face significant barriers to access and to participate, both in the wider society and within a University context. A 2017 national report from Stonewall highlights some jarring statistics that everyone who wishes to create a more equal and inclusive environment must remember. 36% of trans students have faced negative comments or conduct from University staff due to their identity; 60% have received the same treatment from fellow students. 7% of trans students have been physically attacked by a student or a staff member. 20% of trans students have been encouraged by their university to hide or disguise their identity. 39% of them would not feel confident reporting transphobic behaviour or bullying to staff. 17% of trans students report being unable to use the toilet they feel comfortable with at University. Students that identify outside of heterosexual or LGB, according to the Office for Students (OfS) have significantly lower continuation rate. The barrier exists at an academic level as well. The Office for Students has reported that, both in 2017-18 and 2018-19, students that identify outside of heterosexual or LGB had a significantly lower level of attainment (meaning that a significantly lower proportion of trans students achieved a 1st or upper 2nd degree at undergraduate level).
These numbers are staggering. Government intervention and support are needed at a wide scale, and the measures that need to be implemented range between changing laws to changing the day-to-day, small procedures that most of us would consider mundane, yet they present significant barriers for trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people. In the name of free speech, the Government seems more keen to support and allow for a culture war supported by mainstream media that has actively questioned the existence of trans people. Transphobia is still live in our society and our elected officials are not doing enough to address this.
As it turns out, there is a whole lot that we can do as an institution, and this is exactly the journey we have embarked this year and, together with University staff and our incredible students, we are creating a Gender Identity Policy. The task is, frankly, huge, and it just shines a light on the amount of barriers faced by our non-cisgender community. Some of the areas that we are tackling in the policy will be:
- Procedures around changing names and university usernames on online systems.
- Procedures around changing names for internal and external correspondence.
- Ways to support students who decide to transition whilst at University (and how this can be integrated in mitigation measures such as extensions and IMCs)
- Inclusivity in sport
- Support for non-cisgender students in their choice of first-year accommodation
- Pronouns use in email signatures and library cards
- Improving the provision of universal (gender-neutral) toilets and facilities across our campus.
On the subject of toilets, I want to point out some work we have been doing on a larger scale. The UK Government has quietly launched a petition on “Toilet Provision for Men and Women”, calling for evidence, with the aim of considering the ratio of male to female toilets. Various groups across the country have been vocal in highlighting how this consultation appears to be threatening the existence of current gender-neutral facilities, which are a unique safe space for those in our society who are uncomfortable, or even unable, to use gender-specific toilets (48% of trans/Non-Binary respondents in a Stonewall survey reported significant discomfort when using public toilets).
We strongly believe that any decisions following the consultations should not entail a reduction in the provision of gender-neutral facilities. They should be increased, improved, and encouraged, not taken away. This is exactly what we’re working on at this University, and what we are pushing the University to commit to. We believe the UK Government should do the same. I have been working with some incredible students from Liberation groups to prepare a response to the consultation, and I will be writing to our MP, Wera Hobhouse, to highlight this issue in the hope she will be able to seek reassurance from the Government that the consultation will not bring about a re-purpose of universal facilities to gender-specific.
There’s so much more to be done and so much progress still waiting to be sought – but we’re moving in the right direction.