University Makes Additions to Non-Discrimination Policy

SUNY New Paltz recently made a revision to their non-discrimination policy to include gender identity as a protected status.

In an email addressed to the campus community on Wednesday morning, SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian said the revision had been made to best support “equality and inclusion.”

The change was made after the Office for Compliance and Campus Climate reviewed the policy and then agreed to add gender identity into the policy.

“The role of The Office for Compliance and Campus Climate, created in 2011, includes reviewing certain policies to ensure that we remain compliant with state, federal and SUNY mandates, while also identifying best practices that support equity and inclusion,” Christian said in the email.

After its revision the policy now says “the College recognizes that the creation or application of standards that adversely impact the equity of educational or employment opportunities, rights or benefits is detrimental to its vision. Therefore, in compliance with federal and state laws, harassment and discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, creed, age, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, familial status, pregnancy, predisposing genetic characteristics, military status, domestic violence victim status, or criminal conviction is prohibited.”

Student Association (SA) Senator Dana Hershkowitz, who also serves on the LGBTQ Task Force, said she had not expected the administration to act as quickly as they did in adding gender identity to the non-dicrimination policy.

“I was very surprised to see that email this morning and to see that addition made,” Herhkowitz said. “The notion to make the change had been brought up during a task force meeting, but (Campus Climate Director) Tanhena Pacheco Dunn said she wasn’t sure a change could be made quickly.”

Hershkowitz said she had not thought the change would be made due to the length of time it takes for additions and changes to be made to campus policies and legislation, and said it can take months to see those kinds of changes. Discussion to make the inclusion of gender identity into the policy began several weeks ago.

SA Executive Vice President Zachary Rousseas said the inclusion of gender identity is crucial in order to improve safety at the university, and that he believes this is an early step toward a safer campus climate.

“The non-discrimination policy before the change before didn’t include gender identity which is essential to making SUNY New Paltz a safe space,” Rousseas said. “I do think that adding gender identity to the policy will improve the campus climate by just creating a more inclusive feel.”

Rousseas said despite acknowledging that this is an important step toward improving New Paltz’s value as a safe space, there is more work needed to be done.

“I need to stress when I say that by  ‘improvement’ I mean the minimal amount,” Rousseas said. “To me this is step one out of a huge list that needs to get done to make this school a safer space for Queer and especially Trans community members.”

Rousseas said without the inclusion of gender identity, which is currently not part of the SUNY system’s non-discrimination policy, people may be kept from obtaining certain employee benefits and find themselves in hostile work situations.

He said he and Hershkowitz are currently working on legislation to include gender identity in SUNY’s non-discrimination policy, and that they hope to bring the legislation to the SUNY conference in November.