West Florida University's Harassment and Discrimination Policies Are Not Up To Standard For Transgender People
The Student Government Association at the University of West Florida should be applauded for taking a stand on the inclusion of gender identity into their University’s non-harassment and anti discrimination standards.
The same cannot be said for the University’s President Judy Bense Ph.D. who denied the request after 1,000 students signed a petition demanding gender identity be added to the standards. It seems President Bense does not understand the subtle and yet important differences between the catch all term gender and the more specific term gender identity.
Gender is defined as “the wide set of characteristics that are seen to distinguish between male and female entities, extending from one's biological sex to, in humans, one's social role or gender identity. As a word, it has more than one valid definition. Inlinguistics, it refers to characteristics of words. In ordinary speech, it is used interchangeably with "sex" to denote the condition of being male or female. In the social sciences, however, it refers specifically to social differences such as gender roles. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, uses "gender" to refer to "the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women". People whose gender identity feels incongruent with maleness or femaleness sometimes refer to themselves as "intergender." Some cultures have separate sets of gender-related social roles (distinct from those for men and women) for certain types of intergendered people, such as those covering the hijra of India and Pakistan.”
Gender identity is defined as "the gender(s), or lack thereof, a person self-identifies as. It is not necessarily based on biological fact, either real or perceived, nor is it always based on sexual orientation. The gender identities one may choose from include: male, female, both, somewhere in between ("third gender"), or neither.
Gender identity was originally a medical term used to explain sex reassignment surgery to the public. The term is also found in psychology, often as core gender identity. Sociology, gender studies and feminism are still inclined to refer to gender identity, gender role and erotic preference under the catch-all term gender. The term is also used in gender taxonomy.
Although the formation of gender identity is not completely understood, many factors have been suggested as influencing its development. Biological factors that may influence gender identity include pre- and post-natal hormone levels and gene regulation. Social factors which may influence gender identity include gender messages conveyed by family, mass media, and other institutions. In some cases, a person's gender identity may be inconsistent with their biological sex characteristics, resulting in individuals dressing and/or behaving in a way which is perceived by others as being outside cultural gender norms; these gender expressions may be described as gender variant.
Self concept or self identity may be informed by how a person understands how others perceive them. Gender Identity does not refer to the placing of a person into one of the categories male or female; but without including the concept of interaction with society at large the term has no meaning. People who identify as Transsexual may strongly desire that other people consider them to belong to a gender opposite to that of their karyotype; but often are simply trying to modify their bodies and behaviors to match how they feel inside, which may not have anything to do with being either male, female, a man, or a woman.
For Transgender people, there is an important distinction. Many Transgender people identify as gender non-conforming or gender queer. They consider themselves to be neither male nor female as their gender identity. The term gender as male or female does not apply.
Another instance where the term gender does not apply is when a Transgender person is in transition. They might appear to be of the female gender, but their gender identity is male or neither.
Gender identity as a term fulfills the need for Transgender people to be able to understand themselves as well as for society in general to understand Transgender people.
The other issue here is that President Bense does not seem to understand her own vision, mission and values for the University.
UWF Strategic Plan 2008-2012
To be the best regional comprehensive university in America.In order to be the best of anything, a good leader must allow every member of their team to be an authentic individual.
For example, if a faculty member is a "closeted" Transgender person, they cannot do their job to the fullest extent possible. They will not be productive. They will suffer from anxiety and depression. They will not be a good example to their peers or their students.
Allowing faculty, staff and students to be their authentic selves provides a safe and healthy environment providing the tools for West Florida University to be the best regional university.
To empower each individual we serve with knowledge and opportunity to contribute responsibly and creatively to a complex world.
Yes, it is indeed a "complex world." Gender identity is a complex term. A person who is in denial over their authentic gender identity is not empowered. They are oppressed. If a person does not feel safe to express their authentic self without fear of harassment or discrimination, they are not empowered.
Therefore, they cannot contribute responsibly or creatively to this "complex world."
Doing the right things for the right reasons
Is there much to say about doing the right thing? Yes!
This is what it is all about. The right thing is full equality for all people including students, faculty and staff. It is sending the message this institution of higher learning does not allow harassment or discrimination. The right thing is taking a stand on social issues. The wrong thing to do is to stick your head in the academic sand hoping it will all go away or letting others do it first.
Dedication to exploring and expanding the boundaries of knowledgeTransgender people are found throughout history.Transgender people come from all walks of life throughout the world.
As an archeologist and anthropologist, President Bense should understand this. She should also understand people take pride in knowing their ancestors. Transgender people are no exception.
In an open academic, learning and research environment where all feel safe to express their authentic selves, the boundaries of knowledge can be expanded beyond the cultural norm. This begs the question - Is President Bense afraid to truly stretch said boundaries?
Working together to achieve shared goalsThe old saying goes, "There is no I in teamwork."
This is the 21st Century and Transgender people are becoming more and more visible whether it is safe or not so safe.
This has nothing to do with preconceived ideas about gender as just male and female. Academicians should have the capacity to think outside of the box where there are no labels and people can truly work together.
Goals are mutually agreed upon, attainable and measurable. A suggested goal for President Bense and her staff is to re examine the University's position on gender identity, the University's EEO statement and any other statements made in regard to equal human rights.
The Gill Foundation will not grant money to any institution or organization that has a non-inclusive EEO statement and does not include gender identity. The term gender is not sufficient because it is restrictive and narrowly interpreted.
Managing and protecting our resources
People are the most important asset or resource of any organization. Leaving any group of people open to harassment and discrimination is putting them in harm's way thus losing their efficacy as a resource.
Transgender people are no different. If all people were really valued at The University of West Florida, it would be only logical to leave no loophole open for harassment or discrimination.
Daring to be different by designIt takes courage to be on the cutting edge by putting aside one's personal beliefs of any sort. It will take courage for President Bense to take a stand on this issue. There could be repercussions from state authorities, parents, faculty and other students. She will have to put her money where her mouth is and include gender identity in the University's harassment and discrimination guidelines as well as the University's EEO policy.
As for other Universities being fully inclusive and the University of West Florida waiting for others before it considers being fully inclusive, this is a moot point.
Many other Universities include gender identity in their policies as does the Federal Government, several states and many municipalities.
The time is drawing near when West Florida University will be forced to change their policy archaic and chauvinistic policy. Do not "throw Transgender people any bones" as the author of the article suggests. Change your policies for the right reasons as you state in your University's Vision, Mission and Values.
REBEKAH ALLEN • RALLEN@PNJ.COM • JANUARY 30, 2010
.... The Student Government Association at the University of West Florida is taking a firm stance in favor of giving equality to transgender students.
The Gay-Straight Alliance collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to include "gender identity" on UWF's nonharassment and discrimination policy.
Currently, the policy condemns harassment and discrimination of people based on age, color, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status and gender.
President Judy Bense and her top administrators denied the request, saying that "gender" should cover gender identity.
A few years ago, the policy used "sex" instead of "gender." And if we're going to get technical — sex refers to physical anatomy and gender refers to societal norms attached to being male and female.
I'm not a lawyer, but I think that would hold up in a court of law.
But hey, it's 1,000 students. That's 900 more than signed a petition to keep Judy Bense as president. That's even a little more than the number of students who bothered to vote in the SGA election.
There's no telling how many or how few students are actually transgendered at UWF because the school doesn't keep statistics on it.
While it's not legally necessary, 1,000 students have come out to say that they want a gesture of equality for all.
And part two of the reason administrators said they didn't want to do it was because "other universities have not added it to their policies. When more universities make the change, we will consider it," according to the student newspaper.
To me, that's an admission they're afraid to make waves.
Throw them a bone and be a leader, UWF.....