Include Me MU is a campus-wide campaign run by a task force of student activists working to include “gender identity and expression” to the university’s non-discrimination policy.
While the addition of “gender identity and expression” is frequently misconstrued as protecting solely the interests of transgendered individuals, the reality is that every human being is protected under this umbrella, since every person has a gender identity, regardless of its social acceptability. Any member of the university community can currently be failed, fired or otherwise discriminated against for the way they express their gender, which is a gross and ostensible travesty of the university’s principles. While transgendered persons are more likely to be discriminated against because of their expressions that does not rule out discrimination against any person. Changing the university’s policy is imperative not just in order to protect transgendered members of the university community but to ensure that the university embraces and encourages its growing diversity instead of inhibiting it. When MUchanges its policy, it will be number 267 on the list of colleges and universities in the United States including gender identity as a protected characteristic.
Changing the verbiage of MU policy is a multi-step process that will take a great deal of time and energy from the campaigns’ proponents. Include Me MU had its first of hopefully many victories March 11 at the Missouri Students Association Senate meeting. The Senate proposed and passed three separate bills aimed at insuring the inclusion of all students, which includes those with non-traditional gender identities or expressions.
The first bill was a resolution to be sent to the MU administration voicing the organizations’ support for amending the university’s non-discrimination policy. The other two bills involved the amendment of the MSA constitution to expand its list of protected characteristics, which, per the MSA bylaws, requires passage by a student referendum.
This referendum, to be held April 6-8, is crucial to the ultimate success of the campaign. In order for the university policy to be changed, it must eventually be approved by the UM System Board of Curators. Members of the curators are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Missouri Senate. The majority of the sitting curators were appointed by former conservative Gov. Matt Blunt, and thus are likely unconcerned with such issues. That said, passage of the upcoming referendum is paramount in importance, as it will be much easier for the curators to ignore the resolution if it appears that the student body does not support the changes. To insure that the curators are forced to seriously consider the concerns expressed by Include Me MU’s efforts, the task force is undertaking multiple steps to show the curators that this change is supported by people within all levels and departments of the university community.
First of all, Include Me MU will be running an expansive campaign in the weeks prior to the referendum to educate students on the necessity of these policy changes. Members of the student task force will be speaking to classes, holding information sessions in the residence halls and disseminating information along with buttons and stickers sporting the Include Me MU logo. The campaign can also be found online at includememu.wordpress.com, the campaign’s blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
This referendum, however, will not on its own be a sufficient expression of the community’s support to force the policy changes. Include Me MU is also launching a grassroots effort to get all hands on board with the movement. Members of the task force have already begun meeting with administrators from MU’s various schools and academic departments to encourage them to amend their non-discrimination policies. Although many of these departments currently use the university’s policy, this is merely out of convenience. Each school and academic department is allowed to implement their own policies, as long as they are not contradictory to any aspects of the overall policy. Such changes from most or all of MU’s subdivisions are another important step in Include Me MU’s effort to make the curators’ decision on the issue inevitable. While the footwork involved in discussing such changes with each academic department and school will be great, Include Me MU will go to whatever lengths are necessary to make gender inclusion a reality for the entire community.
Erin Horth is a junior at MU majoring in political science. She is in her first semester at MU after having spent two years at the University of Miami in Coral Gables Florida. Horth is also an intern for Missouri Rep. Steve Brown, District 73.