University of Auckland Commits to Making Campus Safe for Trans, Intersex, and Gender Variant Staff and Students

It’s been a long haul, but this morning Trans on Campus had a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Stuart McCutcheon, along with the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Equity, Trudie McNaughton, Director of Student Equity, Terry O’Neill, and Director of Administration, Adrienne Cleland.

I was admittedly dubious going in, having experienced slow movement over the last few months, and having participated in protests directed towards McCutcheon against fee raises at the university, the cutting and underpaying of staff, and the size of his salary.

We were all pleasantly surprised.

We went in with two documents prepared: one on the issues needing to be addressed, and another containing advice on interacting with trans staff and students.

McCutcheon seemed genuinely keen on affecting change, and the meeting started with him stating that he was dedicated to making the university a safe space for all, and that it was not a matter of what but how.

We summarised our issues with the current preferred name systems, and pointed out that we’d already made a change, with a CECIL admin editing the class list printout procedure to hide legal names by default, meaning if any student was outed in this way, as we all have been, it would be an individual staff member to blame rather than an entire system, improving accountability.

Adrienne Cleland pointed out the complexities in fixing this system, making the point that there are around 155 enterprise systems connected to the core identification system.

The issue of reprinting degree certificates after a legal name change came up, seeing as Otago University currently allows this while there is no information if the University of Auckland does or not. Apparently UoA will reprint a certificate if the original is lost, and McCutcheon saw no issue reprinting after a name change. Cleland pointed out that there might be some issues with legislation requiring the university to keep track of the legal names of students at the time the degree is granted, and potential problems with the university’s IT systems, but was positive about this being a real possibility.

We brought up the fact that the University Health Service deadnamed and misgendered one of our members even after she had legally changed her name, which according to Cleland should not happen as UHS gets student details from the central system. Cleland is looking into this, and the Equity department are looking into setting up a discussion between Equity, Trans on Campus, and the heads of Uni Health Services to address sensitivity issues and the treatment of trans students.

The immutability of the UPI system (a set of numbers and letters generated from university members’ first and surname) was brought up, and while this cannot be immediately rectified Cleland told us that the enterprise ID system is to be updated within 3 years, and that this issue would be looked into and potentially resolved at that point.

Finally, McCutcheon asked why trans students didn’t just change our names legally, as this would solve many issues. Apart from the financial aspect (a legal name change requires around $300) there are many reasons why this may not be feasible – a student may not be out in all spheres of their life, for example. McCutcheon suggested Equity set up a fund to support transgender students through the legal name change process, and this should hopefully be in place before the start of next year. That’s right – the University of Auckland will pay for legal name changes to ensure the safety of transgender students. It’s uncertain whether this will be a subsidy or whether they will cover the entire cost (we expect there will be a rush of trans students at first, but after that probably no more than 2 or 3 a year would use this service, making it a very feasible fund at $300 each). I am relatively certain UoA is the first university in the world to do something like this, and we are very grateful. It’s good to see that some of our fees are being used to support marginalised students.

All staff attending the meeting recognised that this would not solve all issues pertaining to name however, and are dedicated to solving any issues that arise.

Secondly, staff attitude and treatment of students came up, and that seemed to students to be no clear way to report issues with staff. According to McCutcheon there is a very clear procedure, and inclusivity and the equity policy are standards that the staff are assessed on annually – this is soon to include all academic staff.

This process, as well as all the services the uni do and will provide to trans students are to be made a lot more public via the university and equity websites, avoiding potential issues like the uncertainty around the bathroom policy earlier this year.

Speaking of bathrooms, we brought up the possibility of a publicity campaign similar to the University of Bristol’s. We showed the poster UoB circulated (seen below) and the response was positive. We intend to circulate a similar campaign within the next few months, and we will continue to push for a public statement ensuring that the student body know that the university supports our right to pee where we choose.

poster reads: "if you're in a public bathroom and you think a stranger's gender doesn't match the sign on the door, follow these steps: 1. don't worry about it, they know better than you."
poster reads: “if you’re in a public bathroom and you think a stranger’s gender doesn’t match the sign on the door, follow these steps:
1. don’t worry about it, they know better than you.”

We asserted that we do not feel comfortable using disabled toilets as we are physically capable of using gendered and unisex bathrooms, and do not wish to further marginalise others just for our own safety and comfort.

So, as a summary:

  • McCutcheon is keen on making the university a safer space
  • The University is likely to start reprinting degree certificates after a legal name change
  • The problems with the University Health Service – both in terms of their records and in terms of their attitude towards trans students is going to be addressed, and Equity and Trans on Campus have the opportunity to have a discussion with the heads of UHS to address issues of sensitivity.
  • The UPI system is potentially going to be reviewed within the next three years
  • The University is going to set up a fund before the start of next year to support students financially with legal name changes
  • There is going to be more public awareness around many of these issues, and information pertaining to what the University does and does not provide for trans students will be made available on the Equity website.

As a group, we are pleasantly surprised and grateful to see upper management of the University so willing to listen and affect real change. This is a big step forward, and some of these changes will be highly noticeable next year.

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