Safe, inclusive and equitable environment for Rainbow students and staff

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The University of Auckland recognises that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people often face barriers to participation, retention and success says Director of Student Equity, Dr Terry O’Neill.

And, by developing a range of policies, guidelines and initiatives to support Rainbow student success, it is leading the charge on some issues he believes.

The establishment of the Rainbow student and staff University Network has provided a key platform for the University to hear the views of LGBTI students and staff on a range of important issues, and the Equity Office has also been developing policies with a particular focus on transgender people.

“There is strong evidence to show that transgender people face high, and often very negative, levels of discrimination and marginalisation which can have negative effects on their wellbeing and, potentially, their academic achievement”.

To address that, the Equity Office developed and implemented a programme offering full support for transgender students wanting to legally change their name to reflect their identity. This fully-funded scheme is believed to be the first such initiative offered by any University in the world.

Since its introduction three years ago, 45 people have changed their name under this arrangement . “It is all about ensuring transgender students are acknowledged, respected, recognised and supported,” Dr O’Neill says. Guidelines have also been developed for staff around transitioning.

The work continues. More recently, the Student Equity team has worked closely with transgender people to develop a new and innovative set of guidelines to support the participation of trans people in university sports teams.

“Our policy in this area only covers participation in University of Auckland teams, but we have already had approaches from national sporting organisations to see if they can use our guidelines, says Dr O’Neill.”

It has been a “very important and complex” area to work on, he adds.

Feedback from the transgender community has been extremely positive, with many students saying the initiatives have been transformational. The University has had reports of transgender students who have actively chosen the University because of its visible commitment to their identities, interests and needs.

The broad commitment to trans and broader LGBTI issues comes with strong support from very senior levels, Dr O’Neill says.

“This has allowed us to be very innovative in developing strategies which demonstrate our commitment to providing a safe, inclusive and equitable environment for Rainbow students and staff to study and work in.”

Research assists in commitment to Rainbow communities
An important part of the Equity Office’s work to support its commitment to Rainbow communities draws on the University’s own research, including the Youth ‘12 Overview which investigated the health and wellbeing of secondary school students who identified as transgender in 2012.