1 in 5 Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQIA+, but Butler lacks data on queer and transgender students. Graphic by Tyler Ellis.
TYLER ELLIS | STAFF REPORTER | email@example.com
Butler University’s student body is about 40% men and 60% women, according to the 2022-2023 Common Data Set, CDS, — a survey that provides standardized data from universities across the country. However, these numbers do not represent the full scope of gender diversity, both at Butler and beyond. Intersex, nonbinary and other gender non-conforming students have historically lacked representation in university data, which inhibits a comprehensive understanding of our student body.
Amia Foston, director of Butler’s Office of Institutional Research & Assessment, OIRA, explained that the CDS has just begun to explore the ability to standardize data collection for nonbinary college students and staff.
“CDS first added a nonbinary gender option for students to their survey this year,” Foston said in an email to The Butler Collegian. “No numbers were reported because, historically, that data had not been systemically collected and made available within our student information system.”
Foston added that OIRA had only recently begun to collect data on nonbinary and transgender students, and that departments such as enrollment management and information technology are currently working on making the data available to students and staff, and eventually to the public.
Dr. Khalilah Shabazz, vice president and chief diversity officer, provided insight to the importance of nonbinary representation in school data.
“Not having clear data on the multiple gender identities that may be part of our campus community limits our comprehensive understanding of the needs, contributions and challenges of all who are represented on campus,” Shabazz said in an email to The Butler Collegian. “Limited data on gender in surveys can also skew the results and limit [or] exclude the voice of individuals who don’t identify with common data set categories.”
While the methodology behind university data collection is always growing and changing, Shabazz hopes that transgender and nonbinary voices will be valued regardless. Improving visibility and inclusion on campus is possible even while changes to data collection processes are not designed to be inclusive.
“Making an intentional effort to be inclusive of transgender and nonbinary voices and experiences should be a priority, even as we continue to refine how we comprehensively collect and appropriately share gender identity data,” Shabazz said in her email. “Additionally, it is important for the broader campus community to be more educated about various gender identities, provide needed support and resources as well as advocate for these individuals and their experiences, all of which is undergirded by the data available on these communities.”
In-depth and accurate data on minority groups helps universities to understand what services are lacking and which groups may need additional support. Lisa Farley, an associate professor in the college of education, emphasized the importance of nationwide health surveys, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, YRBSS, that documents dangerous behavioral trends among America’s youth.
The YRBSS includes data on queer and transgender youth and their needs, which helps to improve health education goals throughout the country. Colorado, Iowa and Florida recently announced that they will not be participating in the 2023 YRBSS, opting instead to create their own statewide surveys. Farley is concerned that states may eliminate those questions, which would have the potential to manipulate student data to obtain desired survey results.
“Any time you add categories, it definitely compounds the number of answers; however, it also gives us a clearer picture because it tells more of the story,” Farley said. “The question that I have is, do you really want the answers, or do you just want the answers that you’re looking for? … you might actually learn something if you ask questions in a different way.”
Dr. Lavender McKittrick-Sweitzer, an assistant professor of philosophy, Diversity Center faculty fellow and affiliate faculty for race, gender and sexuality studies, also values the ability to provide students with local context to broader issues. However, they struggled to find data on transgender and nonbinary students on campus.
“I first discovered this data was difficult to find when I was preparing to teach about trans and nonbinary identities and the related injustices for my [texts and ideas] course, ‘Marginalized in America,’” McKittrick-Sweitzer said in an email to The Butler Collegian. “Being able to [share Butler’s data] is important for recognizing the issues aren’t abstract, only affecting distant others; they also immediately affect our fellow Bulldogs.”
These important discussions regarding gender are important both in university administration and within the classroom. Sunny Romack, senior lecturer in English and director of peer tutoring, stressed the importance of available data on various gender identities for many reasons.
“Given the value of diversity for education, it stands to reason that knowing where we stand in recruiting students, faculty, and staff of diverse gender identities would be important for the university to determine if it is meeting its diversity goals, and if it is not, to look for ways to make our campus more welcoming to people with these identities,” Romack said in an email to The Butler Collegian.
In a broader sense, a lack of information about marginalized identities is discouraging to prospective students. Romack emphasized that accurate representation is key for the Butler community and beyond.
“If demographic surveys suggest to those taking them that binary gender is the only gender identity a university validates, because it assumes other gender identities either don’t exist or aren’t relevant to a person’s educational experience, then that university would be sending a pretty clear signal that they weren’t a welcoming place for people with diverse gender identities,” Romack said in their email.
Although those outside of Butler may not be able to find data on the transgender and nonbinary population on campus, students are still able to connect with their LGBTQIA+ peers through student organizations such as Butler LGBTQIA+ Alliance. Despite the community and solidarity found between students, students may feel disheartened from the lack of representation.
Ves Johnson, a junior music education major, said that the transgender community in his department is actually quite prominent; however, they lack visibility at Butler in general.
“I think that we have a lot of transgender people on campus that are kind of ignored for the most part,” Johnson said. “A lot of the music education majors are actually transgender.”
However, easily accessible information could be dangerous to transgender individuals. Indiana Legal Services, ILS, suggests filing a petition to prohibit public access to information regarding legal name and gender marker changes, as that information is made available to the public by default when a change is granted. The ILS cites personal safety and protection against domestic or family violence as common reasons why transgender people file to close their case to the public. Johnson said that data that is publicly accessible could give marginalized voices better representation, but could also pose a threat to the safety of students.
“Right now it’s really dangerous to be a trans person,” Johnson said. “I’m just afraid that if we were more visible and more talked about on campus, we would just be a bigger target — there are benefits and drawbacks.”
The importance of access to accurate university data can easily be undermined by the threat of danger to those involved in said data. Researching and releasing demographic information requires a balance of preventative anonymity and descriptive information, and that balance becomes more difficult when focusing on minority groups. However, Butler administration such as Dr. Shabazz are optimistic that transgender and nonbinary people can be represented without compromising their safety.
“We want to create the atmosphere through our actions where transgender and nonbinary individuals are welcomed and valued on campus,” Shabazz said in her email. “I am hopeful that we will cultivate an environment that empowers our transgender and nonbinary students, faculty and staff to feel safe and confident on our campus leading them to thrive and share their experiences with others.”