DePaul University recently implemented the option for students to self-select their gender identity on the school’s online portal. The college launched this update on the Campus Connect portal, which is DePaul’s online database that provides resources for students, faculty, and staff.
The university’s Student Government Association (SGA) promoted on social media that along with identifying their Legal Gender, students can choose to designate their Gender Identity on the school’s self-service computer platform that allows them to accomplish a variety of administrative tasks. The online portal now allows students to identify as female, male, non-binary, transgender, cisgender, intersex, or unspecified. They can also choose to not self-identify. In addition, the Registrar’s office offered more options for the ethnicity section, also at SGA’s suggestion.
“Simply put, misgendering folks is harmful because it allows for trans and gender-expansive folks to be seen as jokes or as less of a person. It can make the person feel like ‘they are not important enough to remember,’ which is incredibly harmful,” said Mycall Riley, DePaul’s LGBTQIA+ Resource Center coordinator. “Incorrectly assuming someone’s pronouns also assumes someone’s gender, which can lead to other marginalizing and harmful behavior,” he said.
DePaul has taken this step as religious colleges and schools face growing criticism for discriminating against students based on their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. One Christian college allegedly threatened disciplinary action towards a transgender student if they did not withdraw from classes because of their gender identity.
“Misgendering is an act of violence,” said Riley Reed, DePaul’s senator for LGBTQ+ students. They told The DePaulia:
“Hopefully [this will limit] misgendering, since someone’s identity is represented. I would hope [students] can feel comfortable being addressed properly and have the choice to disclose this information. It also protects students who would not feel comfortable [publicly] expressing [their identity quite yet].”
Reed hopes the move towards inclusive language “will create a more transparent environment for all members of the DePaul community.”
While the gender identity and ethnicity data collected on Campus Connect are only available to designated staff of DePaul’s Registrar Office, faculty and other campus staff may request the information for academic purposes.
“For example, if SGA wanted to share information or opportunities specifically with students who select a certain gender identity, the Office of Student Involvement would coordinate with Information Services to send that information to those students,” according to Michael Wright, assistant vice president of the Registrar Office. “This information is [otherwise] protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”
Wright explained further:
“For the last few years, students have also had the option to choose pronouns in Campus Connect, which are shared on rosters with faculty and academic advisors so that they can address students appropriately. Upon admission, students must still fill out ‘Legal Gender,’ and there is an option to decline to specify.”
“Since students can select their pronouns and gender identity, it luckily doesn’t leave room for error in a technical sense, since the information is readily available and accessible to others at the university,” Reed said.
Reed believes this development is an important step in DePaul’s movement towards inclusivity and diversity. However, they know the work must continue for the dream to be a reality. “I think [we need] more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and other initiatives to increase representation for gender-diverse students,” Reed said. “One of my initiatives is to hold spaces for trans and nonbinary students in the upcoming quarters, utilizing the LGBTQ+ student resource center and finding ways to build community.”
DePaul is providing Catholic institutions a model for how to respect their community members. As Fr. James Martin wrote in his book Building a Bridge, “Respect means calling a group what they asked to be called.” Names are important because they give us identity, relationality, community, and meaning. Refusing to name or recognize a person by the descriptors they desire disrespects that person’s being and existence in this world. While some Catholic leaders fail to embrace this expression of respect, Catholic colleges and universities are leading the way on inclusive practices. It is up to the people of the church to step up to the plate.
This post is part of Bondings 2.0’s series on LGBTQ issues in Catholic higher education. You can read other stories in this series by clicking here.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, February 7, 2022