Tufts is launching the Trans Support Task Force to improve university resources available for transgender students and streamline communication within the Tufts community, according to Nino Testa, director of the LGBT Center and task force co-chair.
The other co-chair is Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Provost Mark Brimhall-Vargas, and the task force will hold its first meeting on Oct. 20, Testa said.
According to Testa, Office of Equal Opportunity Director and Title IX Coordinator Jill Zellmer, who works across all three Tufts campuses, will be on the task force as well to help broaden the scope of its efforts.
Zellmer said that one of her goals as a task force member is to make sure Tufts’ public buildings are in compliance with new state laws concerning public accommodations for transgender individuals. The law, signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on July 8, will go into effect on Oct. 1.
Testa said that while Tufts has accomplished much in regard to creating an environment that supports all forms of gender identity and expression, he hopes that the task force will ultimately provide a more structured overview of persistent issues and identify areas in need of improvement across the university.
Brimhall-Vargas agreed that the university would need to review its current policies in order to make them more current and useful.
“Part of the working of the task force is to figure out which policies need to be updated,” Brimhall-Vargas told the Daily in an email.
Testa said that the development of the task force is another step in the LGBT Center’s ongoing efforts to bring the university closer in line with the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals’ list of best practices for supporting transgender students.
The task force will include faculty, students and staff from the Boston and Medford/Somerville campuses, along with representation from Tufts’ transgender and non-binary community, according to Testa.
“We were very intentional about making sure there was good representation on the task force of transgender and non-binary students, faculty and staff,” Testa said. “We need to let the conversation be driven by the needs, experiences and voices of those folks.”
Unlike the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering (AS&E), Tufts’ Boston campus does not have an LGBT Center, Testa said. However, according to the School of Medicine’s student groups and activity website, the inter-school student group Tufts Biomedical Queer Alliance aims to connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and allied students and professionals on Tufts’ Boston campus.
Tufts’ Grafton campus, which also does not have an LGBT center, has a diversity council that works toward implementing the best practices for supporting transgender and non-binary students, according to Testa.
Brimhall-Vargas added that identifying and addressing the needs of transgender students of color and other intersectional identities will also be a focus of the task force.
According to Brimhall-Vargas, one of the first priorities of the task force will be to address issues with changing names in the Student Information System (SIS). Currently, if a student wants to change their name, it is difficult to update the system to reflect that change.
One of the primary long-term goals of the task force will be to improve communication with the entire Tufts community concerning resources for transgender students, according to both Testa and Brimhall-Vargas.
“I think one of the biggest problems has been a failure on the part of the university to really communicate to the community what has been done and what’s being done,” Testa said.
Another goal of the task force will be to expand transgender resources beyond AS&E, Testa said. This would include the Boston campus as well as the various departments of the Medford/Somerville campus.
“We’ve had a lot of really good work that’s been done in different corners of campus,” Testa said. “So that interest is already there, and I’m hoping the task force can be a more formal way to capitalize on some of that interest in the work that people are already doing.”
Brimhall-Vargas reiterated the goal of centralizing support across the university.
“It’s a part of making sure that our policies and practices create a baseline of support across the whole institution,” Brimhall-Vargas said. “Trans members of our community exist across all [of] our campuses, and we simply will not overlook that.”
According to Testa, this is a question of logistics as well as resource allocation.
“I’ve gotten emails from community members asking for pronoun fluency improvement, so I’ve done pronoun trainings on the Boston campus,” Testa said. “Part of the task force’s goal is to find out who is situated to be doing those things and how can we make sure that the work we’re doing is going to be most efficient for the whole university and not just siloed into AS&E.”
Testa said he hopes that the task force will also improve communication in the other direction and provide a more streamlined way for members of the Tufts community across all campuses to make suggestions based on their needs.