Student Government Association senate members voted Monday night to recommend the addition of gender identity and gender expression as protected classes under Auburn University’s anti-harassment policy. The resolution passed with a 21–8 vote.
The resolution will not change the anti-harassment policy, but expresses the need for change to University administration. It will be delivered to Auburn’s faculty senate and staff council, the Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity, Vice President of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry and President Jay Gogue for consideration.
Jacob Dean, senate cosponsor for the resolution, said he was not sure what will happen to the resolution next.
“We know that what the SGA senate did was to speak on behalf of the senate,” Dean said. “That’s as much as we can do. Now it’s our job to make sure that the administration are aware of what we said and they’re aware of the resolution. So, I know the office that administers the anti-harassment policy, but I’m not sure who actually has jurisdiction over changing it, amending it or including these two phrases in there.”
According to the resolution, 423 other colleges and universities in the United States include gender identity and expression as protected classes. These institutions include the University of Tennessee, the University of Florida and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Classes currently protected under Auburn’s anti-harrassment policy include race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation and disability.
During the meeting, Sam Wilcox, senate cosponsor for the resolution, explained the definition of gender identity and expression.
“Gender identity, just to remind everyone, is what you identity yourselves as,” Wilcox said. “Gender expression is how you express that.”
The addition of gender identity and expression to the policy would protect transgender and transsexual individuals from harassment and discrimination on Auburn’s campus.
According to University policy, students harassed on the basis of any of the protected classes listed in the anti-harassment policy can seek disciplinary action through the Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity.
“Right now, they’re not protected under the anti-harassment policy, so they would not be eligible to go to this office,” said Dean.
The resolution did not pass without discussion.
Walter Whatley, junior in accounting and SGA senator at large, raised the first point during the meeting. He suggested the change could affect University housing by the possibility of students being assigned transgender roommates without their knowledge or against their will.
Wilcox said other institutions with gender identity and gender expression clauses have made allowances within their housing systems to avoid this problem.
“From the research I’ve done, the 423 other schools that have this, typically what I’ve found is they’ll designate a dorm on campus, and that would be a gender-neutral dorm,” Wilcox said. “Or if you wanted to live there, you would check a box on your housing form just like you would where you want to live—the Village, the Quad, the Hill—you would check a box saying, ‘It’s fine with me if I live with a transgender student.’”
Discussion on this subject was ultimately closed as off-topic.
“My issue was denied from discussion, which I do not believe was a proper thing to do,” Whatley said. “If the administration of Auburn changes our nondiscrimination policy, I believe housing can be directly affected within those, and I believe that should have been discussed last night. So that was my biggest issue.”
Whatley also maintained during the meeting to have the vote conducted by ballot rather than voice. The motion was voted down and the vote was conducted by roll call. Members of Spectrum, Auburn’s LGBTQ advocacy group, were permitted to remain in the room while the vote took place.
“I think senators’ votes might have been swayed in that there’s a pressure of verbally voting in front of Spectrum that’s sitting in the back that put undeserved pressure on the senators,” Whatley said. “The way that was handled should have come out differently.”
Dean said he was happy with the outcome of the meeting.
“I was very excited to see the questions were extremely professional, I thought, and I think that the senators handled themselves in a way that I’m almost positive the student body would be proud of each senator and their questions, their vote and their thoughts,” Dean said.