This month, the Queer Resource Center, as well as a number of other resource centers and student groups on campus, have been working diligently to bring some of the initiatives of Hampshire County Trans Awareness Month to Amherst College. Through a variety of events, such as film screenings and dialogues, Trans Awareness Month seeks to direct attention to the lived experiences of trans and gender non-conforming people. A comprehensive awareness of marginalization in our community must include an appreciation of their unique experiences. However, Trans Awareness Month should not be seen as the only opportunity to bring awareness to the achievements and challenges of the trans movement. Ideally, we should always work to promote a culture of equality for all people, regardless of their gender expression.
Trans Awareness Month provides an opportunity to engage in the national and global dialogues on gender identity and expression. The month is also a chance to reflect on issues affecting students on our own campus. Within the past year, the Amherst College community has seen a number of policy changes that have directly affected trans and gender non-conforming students, some of which I will highlight below.
In May, the College’s Student Health Insurance began covering “hormone replacement therapy, gender reassignment surgery (maximum of $50,000) and gender-related counseling.” The College’s insurance covers ‘top’ (breast augmentation surgery or bilateral mastectomy) and ‘bottom’ (phalloplasty or vaginoplasty) surgery for up to $50,000 per year within the insurance network. Additionally, the policy change means that students who use Amherst’s health plan now have access to hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, at no extra cost. The health plan does not, however, cover other gender-affirming procedures, surgeries, and drugs (such as chondrolaryngoplasty or facial feminization surgery).
Students also have the option to enter a preferred name through the ACData system on their “Personal ID” page. This name can be updated at anytime and appears on all internal documents (class rosters, email, directory, etc.). Student ID cards can be reissued with an updated name change once for no charge. Subsequent card updates require the typical replacement fee.
However, legal names, which appear on diplomas and transcripts, cannot be changed without proof of a legal name change. Only when an alumnus formally changes their legal name can their diplomas and transcripts be reissued with the correct name. Gender markers are not listed on internal documents such as the campus directory, class rosters, and emails either. When asked to select a gender on any of the College’s documents, students are encouraged to self-identify their gender marker with the options available.
The College’s willingness to support student name changes can be incredibly significant for gender nonconforming students. But that’s not to say there isn’t more to do. We have a lot more work to do in order to make this community truly inclusive and supportive for everyone. What still needs to be done? I would like to see all faculty and administrators trained in ways to engage with students of all gender identities: it can be incredibly difficult to focus on your work when your professor continues to misgender you. I would like to see more gender-inclusive restrooms on campus, as well as more explicit signage on those that already exist. I would like to see all administrative offices and student organizations update the forms they have students fill out so that they reflect the diversity of gender identity in our community. Most importantly, I would like to see us actively educating ourselves; it’s way past overdue.