In 2017, senior management at University College Dublin reached out to its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group with a challenge: over the course of 8 months, develop, draft and implement a vital Gender Identity and Expression Policy for the University. By the start of 2018, the policy was being rolled out after a rigorous consultation process involving students, teachers, university staff and management. INvolve spoke with Dr. Conor Buggy, EDI LGBTI Subgroup Chair, to uncover how they went about creating a policy that was just the second of its kind in Ireland.
Tell us a bit more about the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group (EDI).
Embedding the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion across University College Dublin (UCD) is considered a core strategy for our success in attracting and retaining an excellent and diverse cohort of students, faculty, and staff from across the world. The promotion of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is our collective responsibility so that we can provide a safe and welcoming environment where everyone can contribute and reach their full potential. One of our main objectives when we established this group in 2015 was to mainstream EDI into all aspects of University life. As this group has broad representation from key areas, networks and groups across the University, this enables us to engage with key stakeholders who will champion and promote the EDI agenda. Our EDI group was founded to support that and drive it forward as a central aspect of our university community.
University management asked the EDI to put the Gender Identity and Expression policy in place – how important was senior stakeholder involvement and buy-in the development and implementation of this policy?
It was very important that the team put in place to develop and consult on the policy and guidelines were from all parts of the university, so we had very senior academic and management involvement all the way through to Student Union involvement. It made for a very diverse and strong team, with many opinions and ideas that helped focus the policy’s development. The University Management Team were consulted on the policy at numerous intervals throughout its development which was essential to get their buy-in.
Why did senior management decide now was the time to develop the policy?
Quite simply it just made sense to create the policy. UCD recognised the policy as an opportunity to ensure all our staff and students could fulfill their potential here in the best way possible. The development of this policy was also one of the key objectives of the EDI group as the University understood that there are many genders represented in the University staff and student population and that it was very important that they felt part of the University community and that they felt their contributions to the University were valued.. A lot of work went into involving the entire University Community such as a University-wide workshop and online consultation. A number of training sessions were also held for frontline staff to raise awareness and to ensure that they felt equipped to deal with any pushback around any aspect of the policy. As a result there was no pushback on the final policy
You had an 8 month deadline to design and implement the policy – how did you go about ensuring you both met the deadline and made the policy as comprehensive and effective as it could be?
A team of thirteen very dedicated people can do great things when under time pressure. Regular meetings and work packages were implemented in subgroups to ensure the workload would be fair and that drafting the policy would be an iterative process with input from everyone on the team. Having specific deadlines to present a complete draft and then a final policy to the management team meant we had a specific time frame to work within. We had to ensure that our consultation processes were included in that timeframe so working to the deadlines gave us the impetus to develop the policy in what many consider to be a very tight turn-around from inception to completion.
You’ve said the policy is a cultural piece, an educational piece, rather than about rules and regulations. Why was this the preferred approach to write the policy?
Rules and regulations often do not allow for flexibility or enhancement of anything and can lead to stagnation. From the outset we realised that this policy could be used to educate our whole community on gender identity as well as ensuring that our staff and students that needed this policy would get what they needed to flourish and be open here in UCD. We wanted the community to realise that UCD values diversity and sees it as a strength rather than as a weakness or a hindrance. So we saw the policy as an opportunity to express that and to make our community culture more engaged and open in relation to gender identity and expression.
Tell us a bit more about the systems and process changes necessary with regard to university data, both of students and employees, to allow for such flexibility with how individuals are able to update their documentation?
All records are very strictly controlled and managed for security and privacy purposes. Staff and students can now simply amend their records through a process directly with either the Registry or Human Resources. It is a very simple process that is cognizant of our Gender Recognition Legislation but also that we are all individuals and the expression of our identities is a personal matter. Systems are now in place for both staff and students to amend their records as they require either during their time here as students or employees or after they have left.
The policy picked up a lot of interest within the student body – tell us a bit more about how they influenced the policy and its development.
We have student union membership within our policy group but also on our EDI group and relevant subgroups. This ensures that student voices are heard for all EDI matters. In terms of the Gender Identity Policy, the EDI subgroup for LGBTI affairs was heavily involved and the students union and Student LGBTQ+ society were involved throughout. The staff and student consultations also meant that the student voice was incorporated into the policy throughout.
Why is it essential for UCD to keep students involved in the EDI’s efforts?
To put it simply we would not be a university without our students. They make up the bulk of our community and all of our efforts from management to teaching to accommodation to sporting excellence revolve around our student body. It is therefore essential to have them involved in our EDI initiatives. We cannot be a community without them and we cannot advance our community goals without their ideas and actions. Without our students we become nothing more than a glorified research centre.
UCD has traditionally been a relatively conservative university – in the past ten years not just UCD, but Ireland as a country have experienced immense cultural and social transformations – what are your insights into how and why this has come about?
If we consider Ireland’s largest university to be a microcosm of Irish society I think we can see how and why we have changed. Ireland is fast becoming a global society, we have many nationalities living, studying and working here and our society has adapted around that. As a people we are fair and freethinking and I think we want everyone to have an equitable chance to succeed at life. For a long time Ireland was probably considered a backwater in Europe that exported its people globally. But now we have a global society on our small island and we advance in a way that hopefully ensures equitable chances for everyone here. UCD represents that well, we are Ireland’s global university, our staff and student body is diverse, we are all opinionated and passionate whether we are conservatives or liberals but we evolve just like the rest of society. I have been in UCD for over eight years and I can see how our community has evolved, we are definitely more open to issues relating to minority groups, we do our best to improve everyone’s chances to flourish here and we welcome everyone just like Ireland does. Our challenge is to keep that momentum going in the face of great and unexpected swings in global society and to stick to our promise that we will always be a place that embraces equality, diversity and inclusion.