Dear members of the Stanford community,

I am writing today about a dimension of diversity that is still too often overlooked and that needs the attention of our entire campus: gender inclusion.

At the national level, we have seen protections for gender inclusion rolled back. For example, a few weeks ago a federal judge vacated a portion of a federal regulation protecting transgender individuals from discrimination in certain health care settings. While at Stanford our Nondiscrimination Policy protects gender identity and gender expression, students, staff and alumni have made it clear to me that we have much more work to make Stanford fully gender-inclusive.

This summer I met with students working to improve the lived experience of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNC) community members at Stanford. I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of this community that is quite powerful in speaking for itself. But I’ve been listening. In this letter I would like to cover:

  • Issues our TGNC community is facing
  • Our roles in effecting change
  • Support resources for members of our TGNC community

Issues our TGNC community is facing

TGNC members of our community shared that they continue to face misgendering and prejudice on an ongoing basis. The 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct underscored that 55 percent of transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students at Stanford have experienced sexual harassment during their time at Stanford; and that TGNC students are at an increased risk among their peers of experiencing sexual violence. These data points should have everyone in our community concerned, and they represent a clear call to action.

Even more recently, we heard deep concerns from TGNC students about the recent Ben Shapiro event on campus, which was open to off-campus visitors as well as students. Shapiro’s comments questioning gender diversity run directly counter to our values that support community members of all gender identities. Moreover, transgender students reported hostile and offensive comments directed toward them by attendees.

Our TGNC community members – our students, faculty, staff and alumni – are vitally important members of the Stanford community and deserve respect and security of belonging at Stanford. A core principle of the presidential IDEAL initiative (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Community) is that each of us in the Stanford community is valued as an individual, and our individuality includes our gender identity.

Gender identity is the understanding one has of one’s own gender; gender attribution is the practice of assigning a gender to another person. One challenge TGNC community members have shared with me is resistance to, or discomfort with, non-binary gender identities that some other members of our community express. A related challenge is the day-to-day experience of interacting with others who ignore or misuse the pronouns (he/him; she/her; they/them; and others) that people choose to use in identifying themselves.

Most of us have had the experience at some point in our lives of having one of our identities misattributed by another – whether it’s on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or a deeply held belief. It can be invalidating and disrupting when others identify us in a way that we do not identify ourselves. And there is frustration and harm when the misattribution of the identity continues, especially if it is done intentionally.

This is not a matter of simple awkwardness, but of the deeper distress that is produced by feeling alone, disrespected, misunderstood or weary of defending one’s identity. We need to respect the manner in which individuals identify themselves rather than insist on our own incorrect labels. Persistent and willful misgendering or misidentifying, or other forms of disrespect toward TGNC individuals, are at odds with our campus expectations. Reports of discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity or gender expression can be reported to the Title IX Office, the Sexual Harassment Policy Office or, for staff, to your local human resources manager.

Our roles in effecting change

Making meaningful progress on gender inclusion is also about attitudes and culture, and that means it comes down to the efforts of each one of us.

To Stanford community members, especially fellow members of the faculty, along with staff, lecturers and others who interact with students, I ask that you honor people’s chosen names, gender pronouns, and gendered or non-gendered addresses with the understanding that those can only be known and chosen by the individual. Respect for and correct usage of pronouns is also important in fostering the true inclusion to which we aspire. Moreover, we should proactively foster gender inclusive student and professional environments where space is made to share pronouns.

In addition, the IDEAL Engagement system is chartering a group to incorporate student pronouns into the student information system and advance other best practices for gender data collection and usage in the university.

Beyond supporting the use of pronouns, I encourage all of us to recommit ourselves to respecting difference in identity and experience, and to working to create environments – whether residential, academic, professional, athletic, Greek or otherwise – that are fully inclusive. Our larger goal is to improve the campus culture where all community members are respected and feel they belong.

At a university-wide level, we are working to expand our education and training efforts to provide more attention to gender diversity and inclusion. The online and live versions of the sexual harassment training given to faculty and managers every two years now include a component in this area. Our trainings for incoming undergraduates are giving increasing attention to gender inclusivity, as well. We will continue to do more, and we know that we need to work closely with TGNC members of our community as we do so. We call on our faculty, staff and students to hold themselves accountable to learn more and to make necessary changes towards gender inclusivity within their spheres of influence.

Support for TGNC members of our community

In addition to calling on community members to support gender inclusive practices, we also know that we need to provide infrastructure support for our TGNC members. In particular, we need to look at systems that collect gender information, as well as facilities at Stanford, such as bathrooms and student housing, so that we are offering choices beyond the gender binary options. With bathrooms in particular we are trying to provide an all-gender restroom option in every building; that will mean in some cases that restroom facilities will change in order to prioritize the goal of campus-wide gender inclusion.

We also recognize the importance of trans health initiatives on campus. For example, the Weiland Health Initiative promotes mental health and wellness across the spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations through education, training and clinical services.  Additionally, QSR and Weiland recently launched the QT Assistance Umbrella Fund to assist TGNC students with health care and legal services.

Today the university is launching a new website focused on transgender and gender expansive support, which provides both resources and educational information. This website, Gender Expansive Support at Stanford, is intended to serve two goals: first, offer direct support and direction for resources for our TGNC community members; and second, offer educational information and guidance for our broader community. This website will expand on existing materials that have been a great resource for our community.

In addition, I would like to point out the following student resources:

Every November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), the day we honor the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. This week offers us an important opportunity to join in this recognition.

I want to thank the students and alumni who have come forward to make Stanford better and more gender inclusive. I acknowledge and appreciate that you have spent your most valuable resource – time – on being part of the change that you would like to see here. With you, I stand for gender inclusion at Stanford.

Persis Drell