While existing resources are available for transgender students at Gonzaga University Spokane, Washington, administrators knew more could be done to support gender-diverse students. The Gonzaga Bulletin, a campus newspaper, reports on upcoming changes:
“These new policies would focus on specific areas of the college system that could create barriers for transgender students. Some of these changes would include the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms, a system in which students in transition can discretely change their name on all school-related records, a policy that would permit transgender students to live in the residence where they are most comfortable, as well as make medical resources easily available and non-discriminatory.”
Jaime Hollis, coordinator for special populations, said at least two motivations prompted these policies changes. The first was wanting to conform the University to Washington State law which protects sexual identities. The second is that even with the LGBT Resource Center and supportive staff in other departments, without official policy, transgender students face an uphill challenge. This could be detrimental to Gonzaga’s admissions in the future as people identify at younger ages as transgender due to broader acceptance and information in society. Hollis is quoted as saying:
” ‘If you look at the trend, [with] access to the Internet people are identifying younger as transgender because they now have the language to identify what they’re going through…Because of those dynamics, I think it’s really likely that we’re going to see an increase in trans students at all levels of education.’
“Hollis wants a system to be in place before the school has to deal these challenges.”
It appears making Gonzaga a more trans-inclusive campus will help existing students as well. The head of the University’s LGBT club, HERO, denied knowing any transgender students who were a part of it and spoke to the difficulties of being out at the school given its location in a small, rural city. The Bulletin spoke with one transgender student, Gianni Giuliani, who attended Gonzaga for undergraduate studies and is now a graduate student:
“Giuliani said he faces no major challenges on campus today, but he said that things were harder for him as an undergrad at GU from 2005 to 2009 when he was in the middle of his transitioning process.
” ‘It was really uncomfortable having to change my name and gender through the registrar’s office…Although they weren’t particularly nasty to me, it was just kind of an odd feeling … I felt they could have been more accepting of what that process is all about.’
“While Giuliani is an out and active member of the Spokane transgender community and regularly volunteers at the Inland Northwest LGBT resource center, he has never made a point of coming out on campus.
” ‘I wasn’t out…I never tried to blend in and make a big deal of it. I didn’t tell anyone. I just tried to integrate so people probably just assumed I was another guy. I might not have taken that route if there were policies in place to ensure safety and inclusion. I’d have felt like it was OK to come out.’ “
Gonzaga University was one of the first Catholic, and the first Jesuit, college in the United States to offer an LGBT Resource Center starting in 2004. The University is continuing to take its commitment to the LGBT community seriously by focusing on specific policy reforms, rather than just statements of welcome.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry