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May 26, 2016

Trans student access guidelines explained

The University is working to comply with federal guidance regarding transgender students’ access to campus facilities, Senior Vice Chancellor and chief legal officer Geovette Washington said in a brief overview to Senate Council last week.

Joint guidance issued May 13 by the U.S. Education and Justice Departments clarifies that schools must allow transgender students to use the facilities of their choice or risk losing federal education funding.

While most of the recent headlines in response to the controversial announcement center on the implications for elementary and secondary schools, the guidance applies to higher education as well, Washington told Senate Council.

Title IX — which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education — has been expanded to include gender identity, she explained. “So, discrimination on the basis of one’s gender identity is prohibited by Title IX.

“We are allowed to have sex-based facilities: housing, bathrooms, locker rooms. But we have to allow transgender students the ability to access the facility that corresponds with their identity,” she said.

“If you are a transgender woman, and you want to go to the women’s locker room, you get to go to the women’s locker room,” Washington clarified.

“This guidance makes clear that others’ discomfort with that decision can’t be the basis of any of our policies. And, while we can have individual-user facilities —bathrooms, locker rooms, spaces within those locker rooms — they need to be available to all students, and not just narrowly available to the transgender student,” Washington said.

The University already has been addressing these access issues, she said.

“There will be places where we have to spend time thinking about what this guidance means and how we implement it. That is particularly true in the case of locker rooms; with respect to some of our housing, we have already moved toward gender-neutral housing and we’ll have to fine-tune some of those things. We’ll be working on that.”

She said additional guidance is expected in the coming weeks and months.
Additional litigation is likely as well. “There will be many attempts to block this over time,” Washington predicted. “We will just continue to work toward making sure that we are consistent with the guidance going forth and, to the extent that we need to make adjustments, we will do that.”

In other business:

• Council endorsed an updated University sexual misconduct policy and new sexual misconduct procedure. Faculty Assembly approved the documents May 10. (See May 12 University Times.)

The documents were approved in March by the Council of Deans and last month by the Senate equity, inclusion and antidiscrimination advocacy committee.

A letter conveying the Senate’s recommendation that the University adopt the policy and procedure is being sent to the chancellor this week.

• Marc Harding, chief enrollment officer, reported that Pitt is on track to enroll a larger-than-expected group of freshmen on the Pittsburgh campus for the second year in a row. (See Sept. 17, 2015, University Times.)

“Pretty much on all the metrics you can imagine with the freshman class, it’s a winner plus,” he said.

“It will be the most academically talented freshman class we’ve ever had.”

Early indications show about 40 percent of incoming freshmen hail from outside Pennsylvania and that diversity continues to rise. Harding estimated a 20 percent increase in African-American students and a 6.5-7 percent rise in Hispanic students in the incoming class.

Despite competition and demographic challenges, Harding predicted that the University’s campuses all would meet or surpass their target enrollment this year.

“Thank you for the great work you do and continue to do, because keeping the value proposition strong, the brand strong, is really critical moving forward in a very competitive market,” he said. “They come because of who we are,” he said, extending thanks to the entire University community.

• Senate President Frank Wilson announced that the Senate group that was tasked last fall by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher to address diversity issues (see Nov. 25, 2015, University Times) has expanded its roster to 17 representatives from the faculty, staff, student government and University administration, with room for more participants.

Continuing with Wilson on the group now known informally as the Senate special committee on diversity and inclusion and core values, are Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement, chief of staff and secretary of the Board of Trustees; Pamela Connelly, associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, and Dominique Johnson, president of the Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Organization.

Expanding the faculty representation are Robin Kear, Michael Goodhart, Seth Weinberg, Kasey Marra and Waverly Duck.

Also new to the committee are Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students, and Staff Association Council representatives Mario Browne and Karen Dicks.

Student representatives to the committee reflect newly elected leadership in Pitt’s student government organizations: Natalie Dall, Student Government Board president; Jessica Sevcik, College of General Studies Student Government president; and Justin Saver, Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) president.

In addition, GPSG past president David Gau and Sheila Confer, co-director of Pitt-Greensburg’s Academic Village, who also teaches part-time and who is studying for her doctorate in the School of Education, have agreed to serve.

Additional members are welcome, Wilson said.

Wilson said the expanded roster will enable the group to organize smaller working groups to focus on specific issues.

He acknowledged that other groups across the University are addressing diversity. “This committee has never been and is not now intended to compete with existing groups or to replicate what is already being done,” Wilson said. “What we can do though is to look at those groups for ideas, best practices and lessons to be learned from their experiences, to make them more aware of each other and to act as a catalyst that can promote more united action.

“That we will be doing those things during the officially proclaimed Year of Diversity should help motivate and enable our efforts.”

The special committee will continue its work to try to develop a collective statement of core institutional values, “with participation by, and agreement between, all of our important constituent groups,” Wilson said.

“This will not be an easy task and we may not succeed, but my expectation is that the process itself will make us better than we are now.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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