Rutgers Transgender Rights Group Fights For More Inclusive Academic Policies

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The start of a new semester can be difficult for any student at Rutgers, but it can be especially troublesome for those in the transgender community.

According to Trans*missions president Jamie DiNicola, to be trans is “not identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth.”

One of the greatest challenges facing the trans community at Rutgers is their inability to use the online learning components of their classes under their preferred name.

Sakai, the most widely-used online course companion at the university, currently does not allow trans students to alter their name on their profile, and so when they use these sites for chat rooms, forums, and other purposes, they run the risk of “outing” themselves to their peers and their professors.

Issues such as these are what inspired the formation of Trans*missions, Rutgers first trans focused social justice organization.

Current Trans*missions president Jamie DiNicola said, “We realized there’s a whole different amount of resources that are needed for the trans community as opposed to other queer, gay student groups.”

DiNicola, who formed the group with treasurer Natasha Payano, said shortly after starting up Trans*missions, “Overwhelmingly the response was to work on a preferred name policy.”

Trans*missions’ goal is to enable trans students to change their name and gender on Sakai so that these tools become more accessible to them.

The current system causes more problems for trans students than simply limiting them from using Sakai.

Trans*missions member Annabel Medina explained that before the semester begins, trans students also have to contact their professors directly and explain their identity if they wish to avoid the risk of being mis-gendered in front of their peers.

To campaign for these changes to Sakai, Trans*missions has been collaborating with the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities.

Last November student leaders presented a bill to the student government calling for the "preferred name policy" the group had suggested. The bill passed with unanimous support and praise, helping to raise the profile of the issue.

Eager to see the policy change enacted by the administration, Trans*missions has been building their relationship with administration by reaching out to newly-installed Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Felicia McGinty, who expressed support for the campaign.

However, as the new semester begins, the Rutgers administration still has not enacted the policy, or promised to make the changes.

In spite of administrative stalling, Trans*missions has remained passionately focused on the issue, and expanded their advocacy to well as many other projects.

Shortly after the tragic murder of a transgender resident of New Brunswick, Eyricka Morgan, the group organized a vigil on Douglass campus to call attention to her passing, with roughly 120 people in attendance.

Trans*missions also contributed to Rutgers’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence with their photo campaign to educate the public on issues faced by the trans community.

Trans*missions has also been working on an initiative to ensure more gender neutral bathrooms are created at the University, and again succeeded in getting the student government to pass a bill calling on the administration to include them in all new buildings.

Payano says they also want to add a “gender neutral bathroom location searcher” to the Rutgers mobile phone application.

This semester, Trans*missions started things off by speaking out against Governor Christie’s veto of state legislation that would have allowed transgender citizens to amend the gender on their birth certificate without undergoing expensive gender reassignment surgery.  

Given their success thus far, Trans*missions hopes to see implementation of a preferred name policy by the end of the Spring, so that next semester, trans students are not faced with the challenges Sakai currently presents.