This article was originally published by the The Daily Targum and is reposted here with permission.
University of Vermont (UVM) students who do not identify as either male or female are now enjoying a third, gender fluid option.
The point of providing a neutral option is to expand options for gender identification beyond male or female, said Kyla Schuller, an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.
“Gender is fundamental to how we process the world,” she said. “It’s seen as such an important element that it can make someone seem like a thing, totally dehumanized if they don’t (identify with one) gender.”
Successfully integrating neutral gender options at UVM took several years, Dorothea Brauer, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) and Advocate Center, said.
Though UVM is the first institution to allow students to pick a third gender on official documentation, it should not be the last, said Zaneta Rago, acting director of the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, in an email.
“Many institutions allow for students to have a preferred name show up in different data-systems such as class rosters, Rutgers included. (But) fewer institutions allow for pronouns to be listed (at this time),” Rago said.
It should help that more than 50 percent of millennials see gender as a spectrum rather than a male-female binary, she said.
Increasing acknowledgement of the issues they face is encouraging institutions to change how gender is defined, Brauer said.
“If a brand new problem pops up that has never been factored into the equation before, a whole new set of possibilities and processes and solutions have to be considered,” they said.
UVM’s size made it an ideal place to implement a third gender option, Brauer said. It is relatively small for a state university, with under 10,000 undergraduate students.
“Smallness can be a real aid to change,” they said. “It’s much harder to change the course of the Titanic than it is to change the course of a rowboat. The larger the organization, the harder change becomes.
Though it is small, UVM is still large enough to take on the financial burden of modifying its servers and sub-servers to create a third option for gender, Brauer said.
UVM’s location also aided efforts to enable the recognition of third-gender students, they said. Vermont was the first state to allow same-sex civil unions, and has been progressive, historically.