Administrators Silence on Equality Cause for Concern
Nathan James | Staff ColumnistBy Nathan James | 10/08/2014 10:48pm
Sometime between March and September 2014, after significant pressure from student groups, The University of Alabama updated its nondiscrimination policy to protect gender identity and expression.
When and why this change was made is unclear. The student harassment policy still contains no mention of sexual identity or expression. Therefore, the University continues its legacy of social progressivity–conducted reluctantly, belatedly and under great duress.
Why is it that the University is so opposed to public, visible acts of tolerance? It’s hard to know for sure. For decades, university administrators have resisted attempts to integrate the UA Greek system. As recently as March, Judy Bonner clung to a definition of equality that made no mention of transgender individuals. Lately it seems like acute, public shame is the only way to motivate change on an systemic level.
This is disappointing because university administrators wield so much power to create positive social change. Over 35,000 people attend the University, and state legislatures draw heavily from our student government. A simple statement by our leaders, even without real action to demonstrate its sincerity, carries symbolic meaning that could contribute to social progress in Alabama.
Here are some of the ways such a statement about the new nondiscrimination policy would have contributed to transgender equality: first, it would have clarified the ethical principles that demand equality for all gender expressions and identifications. Second, it would have set a public example of tolerance for the state to follow. And third, it would have made it clear to groups and individuals on campus that discrimination against transgender students will not be condoned. But sadly, administrators didn’t think that any of the above goals were worthy of an email.
If administrators think that quietly revamping their nondiscrimination policy will help them avoid the embarrassment of having such an inadequate system in the first place, they need to realize that their public image is already shameful. Most people outside the state recognize Alabama only for its forgiving stance on racism or its tendency to stifle free speech. It is far too late to conceal the fact that Alabama is behind on social issues, and passivity at this point only prolongs the problem. The only way for the administration to reverse this perception is by loudly and publicly taking a stand for equality.
Of course, it’s also possible that administrators are ideologically opposed to transgender equality. It is not certain who makes decisions about our nondiscrimination policy or what their personal politics are like, but historical evidence does lead one to ask if the administrators even see equality as a goal. If this is the case, there’s not much to do but wait for the current administrators to age and retire, hopefully to be replaced by people who care more about their students.
The only way to tell which of the above two scenarios is more accurate is to watch administration closely in the future. It would be nice to have some evidence that Alabama’s reticence to act on social issues is a matter of practicality, not of principle.
Nathan James is a senior majoring in psychology. His column runs weekly.