UBC to launch new Trans, Two-Spirit and Gender Diversity Task Force

In order to create a more inclusive environment for gender diverse community at UBC, the university is creating a new Trans, Two-Spirit and Gender Diversity Task Force under the Equity & Inclusion (E&I) office.

The task force will be made up of staff, students and faculty from both UBC campuses. Applications to join the task force are open until February 9.

According to E&I’s website, the creation of the task force is partly a response to the external events that caused students, staff and faculty to question UBC’s commitment to its Trans, Two-Spirit and gender diverse community. In June 2019, UBC allowed anti-SOGI speaker Jenn Smith to hold a talk on campus and was subsequently banned from the Vancouver Pride Parade.

Associate VP of E&I and Task Force Co-Chair Dr. Sara-Jane Finlay added the task force is also a response to data from the Undergraduate Experience Survey showing that Trans and non-binary students were “clearly having a much less satisfying experience than their colleagues.”

As Finlay explained, policy change can be slow in an institution as large and complex as UBC.

“It just takes so long to do anything,” she said “It took us 18 months to make what sounds like such a simple change: to make sure class lists were produced with chosen names rather than birth names and to remove the sex identifier from them.”

Instituting inclusivity

The student reaction to the proposed task force has been mixed.

“A lot of the time the university just wants to tick boxes,” said Chris Munn, a second-year undergraduate studying computer science and math.

To them, the task force seemed like an attempt to mitigate negative media coverage.

“UBC as an institution feels the need to respond to attacks on its image rather than the well-being of the student body. At the end of the day, UBC is trying to make as much money as possible and attract the best and brightest students,” said Munn.

They did acknowledge that there are “certain surface-level things that the university has been getting better about.” But they said large inconsistencies still exist between different faculties when it comes to respecting gender diversity.

“That’s when it really gets you … when professors don’t respect your pronouns or ask you for your pronouns, your trust towards your professor is hindered,” said Munn. “That affects students learning at the university far more than having more [gender neutral] washrooms.”

Jay Pahre, a second-year in the visual arts Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program, also expressed reservations about the university’s treatment of Trans, Two-Spirit and gender diverse students.

Pahre described situations “where UBC has made a gesture, but they’ve not actually completed the gesture,” citing the patchy presence of gender-neutral bathroom facilities and the fact that students’ preferred names are not used consistently on paperwork or in person.

But Pahre is planning to apply to the task force, where he hopes to discuss “options for consolidating resources and making them more accessible.”

Ky Sergeant, a second-year commerce student, has already applied to join the task force and is keen to propose “more formal education” for professors across UBC. But they also highlighted inconsistencies in the ways faculties and individual professors handle gender diversity.

They felt that people at UBC were “aspirationally inclusive,” but under-educated about gender diversity issues.

As Pahre observed, different faculties can feel like “totally different worlds” — both “geographically isolated and discipline-isolated.” This makes it especially hard to regulate the ways Trans, Two-Spirit and gender diverse students are treated and set an “institutional baseline.”

But that’s what the task force is aiming to achieve. They will advise the senior administration, who will ultimately be responsible for taking action on those recommendations.

For Finlay, it is critical that senior UBC leaders are included in equity work such as the task force, so that the recommendations can be instituted.

“It’s vital that responsibility and accountability for implementation lie with senior leadership, because if it lies outside of senior leadership it never gets fully embraced,” she said.