If the vote passes at the next general council meeting, the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) could start a committee for transgender student issues.
This committee would promote awareness of the issues faced by transgender students and would strive to make a variety of changes to better their lives at Dal by starting at the council level.
John Hutton is one of two student union reps on the Dal board of governors, and he’s been working to get the ball rolling on these changes.
Hutton used the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design as a model for Dal’s proposed policy changes. The first issue for them to tackle would be the use of students’ preferred names in official records.
“NSCAD has been working to use the preferred names of transgender students in university documents and class lists, as opposed to their legal names,” says Hutton.
“The use of preferred names is so important. Your preferred name is your identity,” he says.
Jessica Dempsey brought the idea of a committee up to Hutton in mid-January, who quickly pitched it to council. She strongly agrees with the importance of preferred names being used.
“It would cost me over $300 to legally change my name and update my identification. I can’t afford that at this time,” she says.
However, the shift to using the preferred names of transgender students is much more complex than it sounds.
“There are two sides to this issue,” says Hutton. “One side is policy: we need to make sure that people are aware of how important it is for trans students to be called by their preferred names.
“On the other side it’s an IT issue. We have to find a way to have people’s legal names in the system, but it also needs to be indicated what name they would prefer to be called,” he says.
Dempsey can testify to the problems it’s caused. “I’ve been outed to an entire class several times on an attendance sheet, or when professors call my previous name.”
Another issue for the committee to focus on is the addition of more gender-neutral washrooms on Dalhousie’s campuses. A list is available online of where gender-neutral washrooms can be located but Hutton stresses that more need to be added around campus.
“For a transgender person, it often happens that neither gender’s washroom feels like a safe space. This is a huge issue, and every new building put up by Dal should be sure that it has a gender-neutral washroom,” says Hutton.
The transgender student issues committee would not only serve as a middleman between the university’s transgender community and the administration but also provide support to the community as a whole.
“The committee is something more than gathering information and research to construct policy; it’s about having representation for transgender students. It will set an example for others to follow,” says Dempsey.
The addition of the committee to the DSU would establish a much-needed outlet to focus on uniquely transgender issues, while also promoting education about the transgender community throughout Dalhousie.
The committee would be made up of one executive and four councilors, as well as non-voting members of the transgender student community.
Due to weather cancelling two of the past three meetings, council hasn’t been able to vote and won’t be able to until Feb. 26 at the earliest, although it has yet to be confirmed.
Dempsey emphasizes the key role that the committee would play in the lives of transgender students at Dal.
“Going through a second puberty is hard enough. Without support, it is nearly impossible.”
Editor’s Note: On the morning this article was published, the Dalhousie Student Union announced that the university’s administration is working on a new policy to allow students to use their preferred name in school-related documents.