Diversity in Higher Education Questions Answered by Dr. Lisa McBride & Sondra Solovay, Esq.

Posted on 23 May 2016 |

Follow Up Questions from Our Diversity & Inclusion Hot Topics Webinar

Thursday, May 19, Dr. Lisa McBride, lent us her expertise for a webinar: Diversity & Inclusion Hot Topics. She, along with Campus’ Answers Vice President of Content Sondra Solovay, covered discussed current diversity issues on campus right now: transgender bathroom bills, attracting diverse candidates, and responding to harassment and bullying.

We received a lot of great questions from the webinar attendees, and Dr. McBride and Sondra were kind enough to share their answers here in the blog.

Can you tell me more about the distinction between sex and gender?

It is easy to be confused about gender, sex, and the relationship between sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. There are many terms, like cisgender and gender nonconforming, that might be new to you.  

First, gender identity and sexual orientation are distinct concepts. In general, the terms sex and gender describe our identity as male, female or a myriad of other options, while sexual orientation describes our attractions to other people. Both sexual orientation and gender identity can change throughout a person's lifetime.

Some people think of sex as a simple, binary category (either male or female) with people assigned to one at birth depending on bodily characteristics. Cultural expectations about what it means to be male or female get attached to the assignment of sex that is made at birth. In that sense, sex and gender are assigned to most people at birth. Historically, the law often uses "sex" and "gender" interchangeably.

Gender identity refers to a person’s internal, personal sense of their gender. We often make assumptions about someone’s gender identity based on how they look, their anatomy, or how they express themselves, but those assumptions may not be accurate.  

Transgender individuals typically have an assigned birth sex/gender that does not match their actual gender identity. Some transgender people alter their bodies with surgery or hormones; some do not. In contrast, a cisgender person has a gender identity that matches the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. For example, a person who is assigned the sex/gender female at birth and who consistently feels like and identifies as a woman is cisgender.

Many people are familiar with the genders male and female, but there are others that may be less common or well-known. Non-binary is one of many terms for a gender that does not fit in the binary male-or-female framework.

Other related identities include gender fluid (gender varies over time), genderqueer (similar to non-binary), third gender (a gender different than male or female), multiple gender (also known as pangender), androgynous (having both masculine and feminine qualities), gender nonconforming (does not fit a particular gender) and agender (may not have or identify with a gender).

Gender expression refers to the expression of a person's gender identity through presentation, mannerisms or characteristics. For example, a person might express "femininity" through a particular haircut or outfit.

Many people who are trans express a gender that matches their gender identity, not the sex/gender they were assigned at birth.

People who are born with reproductive organs or sexual anatomy that is atypical (people with intersex conditions) are often assigned a sex and gender at birth that is enforced via surgical and medical regimens that are concealed from the patient. Many people in this group are highly critical of their experience because the sex/gender that was medically assigned turns out not to match the actual gender identity they develop as they grow up. Thought provoking analysis by scholars and intersex advocates shows that the binary approach to categorization of people as either male and female is more complicated and less accurate than many of us realized.

What is the best process for helping staff and faculty members understand the correct pronouns?

Sometimes people are confused about which pronoun to use when referring to a trans person. This is usually easy to determine. The appropriate pronoun to use is the one that corresponds to the person’s chosen gender presentation.

This is true even if the trans person does not choose any medical intervention. If you are unclear and you are in a situation where you genuinely need to know which pronoun to use, politely—and privately—ask. In larger settings or at meetings where name tags are used, you can ask all the people to identify their pronoun of choice, but never single out only certain people with this type of request.

If you assume the wrong pronoun and are corrected, apologize and be sure to use the correct pronoun going forward. Intentionally, repeatedly using the wrong pronoun is called “misgendering” and it is a sign of disrespect that can easily rise to the level of unlawful harassment.

To gain further insights on accommodating and including transgender individuals on campus, listen to our podcast.

Did you know? People who do not identify as male or female commonly use the pronouns "they" or "zi" instead of "she" or "he" and "their" or "hir" instead of "his" or "her."

Should we conduct a climate survey for faculty and staff?

Campus Climate Surveys are a must-do for students. Whether to do a survey for faculty and staff depends on your unique circumstances. Understanding how the faculty and staff see and experience the environment is usually very helpful and can inform you about areas for further development.

At the same time, it is important to be realistic about your resources. Many teams are spread thin already. Asking faculty and staff questions if you don’t have the resources in place to follow through with analysis and action may create frustration. Pulling time away from required ongoing awareness campaigns to take on optional surveys is not a great idea. Moving to an eLearning training platform can often save significant administrative time which can then be allocated to faculty and staff surveys and other efforts that go beyond the required minimum.

When do bias jokes and speech conflict with free speech and the First Amendment?

Freedom of speech is a complicated legal topic. The First Amendment provides that, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” It protects the free speech rights of individuals against government interference.

Of course, many employers are not government actors. So, while freedom of speech is a core value in the United States, it has many limits. In the workplace, the value of free speech is balanced against other core United States values, like the rights of employees to work in an environment free of unlawful harassment and discrimination. Employers need to prevent a hostile environment from developing in the workplace, and that can lead to limitations on certain speech on the job, as well as a narrow definition of what constitutes appropriate material in the workplace.  

Higher education institutions are also workplaces, but because of the unique nature of that workplace, issues can arise differently. For example, sexually explicit material and related discussions are inappropriate in the vast amount of corporate working environments, but might be very relevant to academic research and therefore have a specific place on the job in higher education.

With regard to jokes, however, it is hard to envision a situation where a biased joke, and the harm that can flow from it, would be appropriate in the workplace, whether corporate, education, or otherwise.

There are many ways to bring joy and humor into the workplace without compromising the rights of employees to a work environment free from harassment.

Can you please repeat the name of the conference you mentioned?

The Southern Regional Educational Board’s Compact for Faculty Diversity sponsors The Institute on Teaching and Mentoring. The four-day conference gives the issue of faculty diversity a national focus and provides minority scholars with the strategies necessary to survive the rigors of graduate school, earn the doctoral degree and succeed as a member of the professoriate.

Find More Information on Diversity & Inclusion in Higher Education

We want to thank Dr. McBride again for taking the time to participate in the webinar and help answer your questions. And if you would like to watch the webinar, you can download it here.

Also, if you would like to learn more about Campus Answers’ diversity training courses, fill out the form on the right to schedule a demo.

comments powered by Disqus

Request a Demo