The latest post-secondary scandal to hit the news comes from the University of Toronto, where Dr. Jordan Peterson, a professor at the university, has refused to address students by their preferred pronouns. His commentary was sparked by Bill C-16, An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code, which passed its first reading with a proposed addition outlawing harassment and discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. In response to this bill, Dr. Peterson created his “Professor Against Political Correctness” lecture series - in the first video, he reveals that if a student asked to be addressed by a non-binary pronoun, he would not recognize the request as it infringes on his right to determine what pronouns he uses to address them.
In a recent interview with CBC, Dr. Peterson reinforced his statement by saying “I don't recognize another person's right to decide what words I'm going to use, especially when the words they want me to use, first of all, are non-standard elements of the English language and they are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people. They might have a point but I'm not going to say their words for them.”
The comments and principles that Dr. Peterson has expressed in the last few weeks are dangerous and harmful to members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially his students. Experiencing the transition into university already has its challenges, but students who identify as LGBTQ+ have unique challenges of their own and face varying levels of discrimination, harassment, and exclusion. Whether in the classroom or in the broader learning environment, students should be addressed in a manner that they feel is appropriate and respectful. Though a name and pronoun are assigned at birth, the preferred name or personal pronoun of a student is not only a personal choice, but fundamentally tied to freedom of expression.
OUSA’s official stance is that “universities have a responsibility to facilitate a safe, inclusive, and respectful environment both inside and outside the classroom and in the broader learning environment for all students, regardless of sex, sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression.” Recognizing and respecting a student’s name and personal pronoun preferences is the most basic step the university can take to facilitate an inclusive environment. The next step would be for universities to develop clear and explicit policy statements that express an institutional commitment to respect diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. These policy statements would not only serve to recognize and provide visibility for LGBTQ+ students, but will also hold the institution accountable for supporting and accommodating students in their university career.
The Canadian Human Rights Code exists to protect marginalized communities and restore equality. The addition of the four words “gender identity and expression” is another step to protect those who are marginalized on the basis of their gender identity. While the amendment to the Human Rights Act in Bill C-16 provides a solid framework to ensure protection for members of the LGBTQ+ community, universities have a responsibility to do more to improve the safety and inclusion of students who identify as LGBTQ+. Areas of concern include, but are not limited to, administrative protocol, infrastructure, in-class exclusion, athletics, and recreation.
Students face procedural and social difficulties from their respective registrars’ offices when they wish to have their name changed on university documents. It is fundamental to the success of a student's transition to be able to have their true identity expressed in university documents. Oftentimes students looking to make these changes may experience delays or blunt refusal to these requests, or in other cases may be subject to invasive demands of proof for changes to be made. These examples of mismanagement are unacceptable and intrusive. Universities should create policy that allows students to change their preferred names in the school’s system and on their diploma where the process and points of contact are clearly stated and are as centralized as possible.
Spaces that are assigned identity, such as washrooms and change rooms, are seen as areas that cause anxiety for students who identify as LGBTQ+, in particular those who are trans or non-binary. Typically, these facilities are designated for males and females. But students who feel awkward, uncomfortable, or unsafe in these spaces are often not offered an alternative. As a solution, universities should establish accessible, gender-neutral washrooms and change rooms campus-wide and mark these locations clearly. Single-stall washrooms can be easily changed with signage, whereas multi-stall washrooms may be renovated. This example is currently being executed at McMaster University after students performed a campus-wide bathroom audit last year. To prevent the need for these types of audits in the future, institutions should ensure all campus buildings planned for the future are be equipped with gender-neutral washing and changing facilities.
Another concern is on-campus residence living arrangements, where room assignments can be potentially threatening for some students who identify as LGBTQ+. At McMaster University, residence rooms options include single, double, and triple rooms, as well as apartment style rooms where students have private bedrooms and a shared common space and kitchen. These living arrangements are traditionally assigned by gender, but this creates a discomfort for students who identify as trans, intersex, gender-fluid or otherwise gender non-conforming. Sure, single rooms are an option for these students, however these spaces are often limited due to the competition with other students as well. Another issue arises when first-choice room assignments are never guaranteed unless you are in a high academic standing entering university. Otherwise, students are assigned rooms based on academic standing or a lottery process, and sometimes universities use a combination of both to assign rooms.
Currently, two working options have been identified to address these concerns. One option is the implementation of Rainbow Floors in residence, currently offered at Western University, to act as a safe and supportive environment. However, there has been some debate over this solution. Some students feel assigning a space to LGBTQ+ students, and students who identify themselves as allies can be isolating. Another option is for universities to offer gender-neutral housing in apartment style residences, where students living in the space no longer need to be the same gender. This solution offers gender-neutral housing and eliminates the isolation of these communities. In consultation with students at McMaster, gender-neutral housing is the best solution. Furthermore, Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador announced that in 2015 they would be introducing gender-neutral housing in one of their apartment-style residence buildings. Although for some universities there may need to be infrastructural changes, oftentimes theses spaces exist and it is a matter of changing policies and putting them into practice to create a more inclusive living space.
Athletics and Recreation:
Cis-gendered change rooms are not the only participation barrier in athletics and recreation for LGBTQ+ students. Many elements of the “sports culture” revolve around binary divisions in biological sex and socially constructed notions of gendered bodies that fortify barriers to students who do not conform to these identities. Additionally, choosing binary gendered teams while already facing barriers puts students who identify as gender nonconforming in a hostile situation. These issues exist especially for students who identify as trans or nonbinary. Athletics and recreational activities are shown to be positive on student health and wellness, and universities have a responsibility to ensure their facilities are inclusive and accessible, where all students have equal access. While policies encouraging inclusivity in their rules and procedures is one step, the institution must take greater measures to address the practical and social challenges that exist in this space.
All of the barriers faced by LGBTQ+ students could not be encompassed in this blog, and should not only be raised when ignorance is making headlines; it is for these reasons that OUSA has an LGBTQ+ Students Policy. Though protective measures and accommodations for marginalized communities are important, government, universities and members of campus communities including faculty, administration, and other students have a duty to strive to end the oppression that makes these measures necessary. Universities uphold strong reputations regarding the quality of education they provide, however, this education goes beyond the classroom. It is up to us to work together to educate ourselves on the diversity of individuals that make up our campus community and to overcome any ignorance surrounding LGBTQ+ identities.