Students participating in the Trans Action Task Force (TATF)—comprised of transgender, non-conforming and non-binary students—are responsible for advising NIU administrators on policies and practices that can be more inclusive for these students.
Coming to the table with administrators since its 2016 inception, the TATF first presented the need for gender-inclusive restrooms. Now, more than 25 of these facilities reside on campus for anyone, regardless of their gender identity or expression.
Molly Holmes, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), along with Matthew Lonski, Graduate Research Assistant at the GSRC, provide support and strategic direction for the TATF. “Establishing gender-inclusive restrooms on campus was a significant accomplishment, and there are more to come,” says Holmes. “We want to see these restrooms in every corner of campus and have three more scheduled for Cole Hall and the Student Recreation Center.”
Holmes explains how the new restrooms benefit everyone. “The single-stall restrooms provide privacy to anyone who wants it and can be accommodating to more than just trans people, including individuals with disabilities. Further, when all bathrooms are assigned a gender, there are limited options for parents who have a child of a different gender to comfortably go.”
Recently the TATF worked side-by-side with administrators to make to some other less visible, but equally important, practices more inclusive.
From a TATF recommendation, NIU students can now utilize the preferred/proper name option in MyNIU and also update their name on their NIU OneCard ID without incurring a fee. Any subsequent name changes will be charged. “We want students to have the opportunity to be authentic to who they are and be seen how they want to be seen when navigating NIU. Allowing students to change their name without being penalized gives them the freedom to display their proper identity,” says Holmes.
Students who are in the process of medically transitioning are required by their healthcare professional to get their hormone levels checked on a regular basis. The TATF recognized the difficulty students faced for a simple blood draw. They often had to leave campus and take significant time to drive to their healthcare provider’s office for a quick laboratory appointment. Under advice from the TATF, and in partnership with NIU Health Services, students are now able to get their hormone levels checked through Health Services on campus. In addition, the cost is now included in their current Health Services fees.
“We are starting to see the impact of the efforts of NIU administration and the TATF,” says Holmes. “More students are coming to NIU because of the inclusion efforts NIU has made, in addition to the LGBTQA residence hall floor. It speaks to the importance NIU puts on ensuring all students feel welcome and safe.”
Facilitated by many students involved in the TATF, workshops were made available to NIU leadership presenting best practices that support the inclusion of transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary students in the classroom. When students have direct interaction with leaders in the NIU community, voices are heard in a way that cannot be replicated by any training video or handout.
Gabriel Sonntag, a history major from Chicago, is set to graduate next spring. He’s been active on the TATF and has experienced firsthand how this group has helped transgender students at NIU. “Through the TATF, trans students are able to voice their thoughts and concerns directly to administrators, bridging the gap that was once there. In the short time the TATF has been around, we’ve been able to make NIU a more trans-inclusive campus and we’ve laid the groundwork for even more work to be done.”
The TATF has a broader message to all NIU students and administrators even beyond inclusion. “When partnership and collaboration occur between students and administration, and positive outcomes are a direct result, students gain trust in university leaders and are encouraged to share their voice,” remarks Holmes. “The TAFT is just one example of NIU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion that we can all be proud of.”