Trinity students will soon be able to opt for gender neutral pronouns in official College records, marking a significant expansion to the College’s gender recognition policies.
Students will be addressed by their first name in College letters and emails, marking a change from a system that currently addresses all students as either Mr or Ms.
Speaking to The University Times, Trinity’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion Tony McMahon said that the changes put College “ahead of the curve” in its approach to gender recognition.
“Our Academic Registry was the first to say: ‘Look, we can recognise [your gender identity] in so far as possible – and there are some limitations – without you having formally changed your identity’”, he said.
“What we tried to do with this policy”, McMahon added, “is systemise that a bit more so that it’s accessible and it’s not exceptional or workaround – it’s a normal thing that we can facilitate”.
Trinity’s gender identity and gender expression policy, which was written in 2014, was recently reviewed by a panel of different College groups, including Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), QSoc, Academic Registry and the College’s LGBT Staff Network.
While the original policy allowed students to change their pronouns on the College records, McMahon said that this year’s review broadened “the focus of the policy away from a heavy emphasis on transitioning, which has a correlation with the traditional binary”.
The group reviewed the procedures of Academic Registry as well as the College’s HR department, and organised an external review by a Scottish transgender awareness group.
The updated policy can be viewed on the College’s website.
“One of the deficiencies was that while we might change somebody’s record [to reflect their preferred name and pronouns], the system generates a lot of automatic correspondence”, McMahon said.
The group is currently working with Academic Registry and Trinity’s IT Services to ensure that students’ pronoun changes are reflected across all communications in the College’s systems.
McMahon said the challenge is “not insurmountable. It just takes someone’s time and effort to actually programme it in and methodically put it through”.
Some of the feedback from the external review, he said, was “difficult to incorporate”. If students change their name and pronouns on the College record, the changes will be reflected across all communications with the College, which could cause problems for students who have come out to their college peers but not their immediate family.
“We’ll be as flexible as we can”, he said, “but if you’re going to the College Health Service and [they] say: ‘We’ll use this record or this title during term but we’re sending something to your home address, we’ll use something different’ – we just couldn’t do it”.
“It’s possible to do that manually, but we don’t feel that it’s reliable enough for us to rely upon.”
Raising awareness will be key to the success of the changes, McMahon added: “Someone with an issue around gender identity could be anywhere – in any school or any office or course in the college.”
“What’s important”, he said, “is that if they have an issue, or need an accommodation, that the person they talk to in that department or office is aware of the policy and knows what their role is and can actually deal with it properly”.
“The whole issue of gender, and moving your thinking from a binary to a spectrum – that’s a bit of a shift for a lot of people, and some people get there quicker than others”, he said. “The main thing is getting people to understand it.”
Trinity’s Gender Identity and Expression policy was the first of its kind in Ireland. It outlines Trinity’s plans to be inclusive of all students, regardless of gender identity. It states that “college will treat all trans* staff, students, alumni and service users with dignity and respect and seek to provide a work and learning environment free from discrimination, harassment or victimisation”.
Speaking at the launch of the policy in 2014, Prof Martine Cuypers, the Director of Postgraduate Teaching and Learning and a member of the policy’s working group, said: “Our starting point was, in essence, human rights.”
The policy, Cuypers said, garnered a “huge amount of support” due to the “very clear sense of common goal and common expression” in Trinity.
The policy states that “it is not acceptable to restrict a trans* person to use disabled toilets or other unisex facilities”, and that it is “good practice” for Trinity to provider “non-gender specific facilities where possible”.
In 2016, Trinity’s first-ever gender neutral bathrooms were opened in the Arts Block in a joint venture between Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and College.
Since then, bathrooms in House Six, the Trinity Long Room Hub, the Berkeley library, the Lloyd Institute and the Global Room, among others, have been made gender neutral.
In 2017, the College Board approved the changing of the term “freshman”, referring to first- and second-year students, to “fresh”, in an effort to be more inclusive of all genders.
In an email to staff and students at the time, then-Vice Provost Chris Morash said that this “small but important change will ensure that all Trinity students are equally included by the language used to describe them”.