Margaret Eby
February 04, 2015 11:51 am

The gender landscape is not nearly as clearcut as ticking a box for male or a box for female, and one college is finally recognizing that.

The University of Vermont has decided to allow students to select their own gender identity, the New York Times reports, by giving them a range of options outside of the usual gender binary. The campuswide information system lets students choose a new first name whether they’ve legally changed it or not, as well as select their own pronoun. Those details are then stored in a school information system so that professors can find the right terminology for their students.

It sounds like a simple fix, but making the change was far from simple. The system update took almost a decade of lobbying from students and faculty members. The Times profiles an awesome mental health counselor at the University named Dorothea Brauer, who worked tirelessly to help meet the needs of the transgender community on campus. She reached out to the campus registrar, and together they worked with the campus lawyers to push forward the neutral gender identity in the information system. They also launched gender-awareness workshops and worked to educate faculty members on language sensitivity towards students.

Their effort paid off with this new system, which is a big step for the on-campus community, but also a positive sign of progress nationwide. “Some people try to reduce this whole topic to kids trying to be cool or they’re just acting out of whatever, just trying to be different or new,” educator Robyn Ochs told the Times. “But there have always been people who have felt profoundly uncomfortable in their assigned gender roles. Anything we can do to make them safer, or make them feel recognized, heard, seen, understood, we should do. To validate their identity and experience could, in fact, save their life.”

The gender issue has already hit many women’s colleges around the country and recently Simmons College joined Mount Holyoke and Mills College in accepting transgender students.

So hear, hear. This step at the University of Vermont is real progress. After all, if OKCupid and Facebook can add a tab for another gender alongside the traditional options, schools should too. In all honesty, schools should be leading the change and the wave of institutionalized acceptance. We’re so glad to see the University of Vermont step up to the plate.

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