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UA faculty urges steps on gender affirmation

Resolution lists 8 proposed measures by Jaime Adame | May 6, 2021 at 6:57 a.m.
Old Main on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus is shown in this Aug. 30, 2014, file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- More steps should be taken at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville to support transgender and gender nonconforming members of the campus community, faculty members said Wednesday.

A resolution approved by UA's faculty senate listed eight proposed measures for the campus, including a change to university health insurance plans so they cover gender-affirming health care.

Separately, the faculty approved a nonbinding resolution commending student leaders and recent graduate Gillian Gullett for their push to have the university do more in support of survivors of sexual violence. The faculty resolution also called for the university to issue a statement to the campus acknowledging their efforts and providing a "clear roadmap forward" that lists "concrete next steps."

The resolution in support of transgender and gender nonconforming students, staff and faculty members was issued after a passel of state legislation this year that includes prohibiting hormone treatments for transgender young people and disallowing transgender women from competing in school sports with other women.

Michael Pierce, an associate professor of history and one of the resolution's sponsors, said during the meeting, which was held virtually, that the resolution was written "in response to recent legislation" and after "discussions with students from the trans community." Pierce said discussions were also held with officials in UA's J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and a Fulbright committee on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The resolution, in addition to proposing health care plan changes, also calls for more access to single-stall restrooms and updates to forms to include transgender and gender nonconforming categories.

Another proposed change involves the use of names on campus, calling for appropriate pronouns to be used in addressing community members. The UA tradition of Senior Walk is listed in the resolution as an example of an area where change is needed to "make it easier" to adjust names to conform to what's in use by transgender students and staff and faculty members. The Senior Walk tradition involves engraving the names of all UA graduates on sections of campus sidewalk.

Other proposals listed in the resolution include having more campus housing options and a staff member in UA's Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education devoted to helping LGBTQ students, with additional funding for programming and resources.

"I just think now more than ever, it's important to show our support for this community," John Delery, a business professor, said.

Mark Rushing, a university spokesman, said in an email that the resolution will be reviewed and considered.

Last year, Toby Klein, a doctoral student in public policy, promoted a letter online calling for the university's health care plan to include coverage for gender dysphoria treatments.

Klein is president of UA's Lavender Society, a student organization that celebrates LGBTQ students on campus. She called the faculty resolution "incredibly important."

"We have seen the divisive nature of the past Arkansas legislative session, and this support is instrumental in helping mitigate some of the harm already done. Our faculty play a critical role in upholding our values as an institution, and I am grateful that they have put forth this resolution," Klein said in an email.

Last month, Chancellor Joe Steinmetz referred to the new state legislation in a written message, stating that "we stand firm against, and prohibit, all forms of discrimination and harassment, and as such, have concerns about recent legislation that has impacts on the LGBTQ community."

Faculty members also spoke about the importance of the university's response to issues of sexual violence on campus.

Gullett and leaders with UA's Associated Student Government created a petition last week that listed five demands, including having more "trauma-informed" staff members in UA's Title IX office to respond to complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Students have held two rallies where many have expressed anger at the university's response to assault reports and the concerns of survivors.

Gullett last week posted on social media that Steinmetz agreed to the petition demands. Steinmetz in a text message to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week also confirmed that the university will follow the steps listed in the petition.

But faculty members in their resolution Wednesday called for a full statement addressed to the campus community.

"If we're doing good things, we need to say we're doing good things, we're committing to good things," said Samantha Robinson, a teaching assistant professor of mathematical sciences. "We have an issue, but we're trying to correct it. So I think this is just a step in the right direction. There should be a campuswide statement."

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