Kristin Hoffman didn't think changing her name with the University of Montana would go quickly or smoothly.

Hoffman, a transgender student, was pleased to be proved wrong.

"They just took my name change papers, and no questions asked. I know it was updated an hour later," said the sophomore studying criminology.

Awareness is growing around the country of issues facing people who represent the "t" in the LGBTQI acronym. Liz Roosa Millar, director of the University Center at UM, said universities are part of the national trend, and Montana is no different.

"We are seeing nationally, and feeling it on college campuses just like everywhere else, a rise in individuals who don't want to have binary gender expression. They don't want to live in the boxes," Millar said.

People also want to express themselves differently, and Millar said UM is responding not only to people who identify as gay or lesbian, but to the entire spectrum of gender diversity.

"It's different than sexual orientation, and it requires a different sensibility when you're working with students in transition," Millar said. "So it's new, newer nationally, and of course then we're responding to that here locally as well.

"And I think we're doing a great job," Millar said.


Hoffman, 21, said she would give UM a score of seven or eight out of 10 in terms of how well it supports transgender students. The score isn't perfect because she's heard the Registrar's Office can be slow in name changes, although her experience was the opposite.

Overall, she said, UM has supported her in the ways she's most needed help. For instance, she noticed her grades were a little low in one class, and she talked with the professor, who offered her an assignment that helped bring up her overall score.

"Teachers respect me for who I am, and nobody questions it," Hoffman said. "I haven't had any issues."

She offered praise for her doctor at Curry Health Center, whom she sees every three to six months for her transition. She heard from colleagues that the doctor was knowledgeable and supportive, and she agrees.

"I'm glad I'm one of their patients. My doctor is awesome," Hoffman said.

Sandy Schoonover, the director of Residence Life, said her department might work with one to three students a year who are transgender. The students might want a particular roommate, or maybe a single room with a private bathroom, she said, and UM accommodates them.

UM doesn't have many gender-neutral bathrooms, but Panzer Hall offers individual suites, and staff discuss that option with students, she said. Residence Life staff work to meet students' personal needs so they can succeed academically, and Schoonover said staff members are trained to help.

"Everything that we do is handled discreetly," Schoonover said.

Before coming to Montana, Schoonover worked in Oregon, and she said the University of Oregon had gender-neutral housing. UM has discussed having the same, but she said the school has not had a good way to determine need.

In Oregon, she said, gender-neutral housing offered advantages for students who lived in the units. 

"I think for the students who requested that area, it gave them a space where they felt very comfortable. Everyone had the same types of values," Schoonover said.

"I just felt like it was another great service that we could give to students to actually help them be successful at school."


Millar said last spring UM conducted its first climate survey. 

The study asked many different questions to students on the main campus as well as those at Missoula College, and it addressed perceptions about diversity and inclusivity. 

Once results are compiled, Millar said UM will have baseline data and be able to understand the areas it needs to improve for different populations.

"It's nice to have that benchmark and then to decide how this fits with our Diversity Action Plan, and which pieces do we need to strengthen in our action plan based on new data that we have about new populations that we're serving. So it's really exciting," Millar said.

She said the Diversity Advisory Council made the survey a priority, President Royce Engstrom endorsed it, and UM will continue the work.

"This will be something we do every few years to see if we are moving the dial on our climate," Millar said.

In the meantime, she said, UM offers programs to ensure campus is welcoming for a diverse student body as well as for faculty and staff. UM Allies, for instance, has diversity training for staff, and the UC has launched a parallel program for students.

"We have that program, which talks a lot in the training about trans issues, gender expression and gender identity, and how that is a significant part of a person's experience here," Millar said.

So far, the training isn't mandatory for staff or students, but Millar said she's moving toward making it required for employees of the University Center. The training shouldn't be punitive, she said; it should be an introduction to the open culture at UM.

"I don't know if that's something the university will do as far as creating a mandate around it. I can see where it would make a strong statement," Millar said.


UM does require all employees to take a tutorial on discrimination prevention, though, said Lucy France, legal counsel for the university. They must do so within a year of their employment on the main campus or Missoula College, and an estimated 97 percent of employees have done so.

The training is general, she said, and it does not offer deep information on trans issues. It discusses discrimination policy, shows the distinction between a hostile environment and direct discrimination, and tells employees how to respond.

Last spring, Jame Wallack withdrew from Missoula College after she was placed on interim suspension. Wallack, a transgender woman, said she was called names on campus, and confided to teachers and the interim dean.

She said no one encouraged her to report the harassment to the Equal Opportunity Office.

Jessica Weltman, director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, said her office did not have data readily available on the number of complaints on file from students or staff whose reports were based on being transgender.

"I don't have a number that I could give you right now," Weltman said.

In recent years, UM has focused on preventing rape, and it has been at the forefront of using creative campaign materials to educate the campus community on sexual violence.

Students generally may not know they should report certain types of harassment to the Equal Opportunity Office, though.

"I think that's broadly part of the education that the university puts out, that we have these discrimination policies. If you want to file a complaint, you come to the Equal Opportunity Office," Weltman said.

She cited the new employee tutorial as an example, printed materials and an email her office distributes every semester noting UM's policy against discrimination. It isn't clear if the material students receive conveys the intended message.

Once a student lands at its doorstep, though, the Equal Opportunity Office makes clear it does not tolerate discrimination. Weltman said the office has an individualistic approach to complaints, with safety as a starting point, and it helps create plans for each person who needs help.

"Students should know that this campus has a lot of really trained, competent, highly responsive professionals who are really open and ready and able to work with students who need support in different ways," Weltman said.


UM doesn't have a policy that explicitly addresses bullying, but a couple of officials are working with the Montana University System to develop one.

Hoffman and Millar are working on guidelines that address diversity, and Hoffman said she hopes the administration and ASUM endorse them in the future. They'll include terms such as transgender and queer, for instance.

Adrianne Donald, associate director of the University Center, just returned from a Campus Pride event, and she brought back ideas she'd like to see at UM. One idea already in the hopper is having faculty ask students to state their names and share their pronoun in class so students can introduce themselves in a safe environment.

In the fall, UM will host a Gender Expansion Conference, and it will have sessions about many issues related to being transgender in Montana, Millar said.

"This is definitely an area we have been learning about, and it's evolving every day. And so it's good to see the responsiveness of college campuses," she said.

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