For the first time, students at the University of Massachusetts have the option to include their gender and sexual orientation on SPIRE.
Not only are students able to indicate their gender and sexual orientation, they are able to update this information over the course of their time at UMass. Students can log in to their SPIRE account and under “Gender and Sexual Identity” in the “My Personal Information” tab, they are given options such as androgyne, trans, bisexual and more. High school students applying to UMass through The Common Application are given the option to indicate their gender and sexuality as well.
These changes largely came from a group effort from the Stonewall Center, the University registrar’s office, University admissions and the Office of Information Technology.
Genny Beemyn, the director of the Stonewall Center, said that they have been advocating for a number of years for UMass to get gender identity and sexual orientation on The Common Application.
Beemyn said that this is also important in order to get accurate sense of the LGBTQ+ population at UMass.
According to Beemyn, the majority of transgender students at UMass identify as non-binary, and a number of non-heterosexual students at UMass identify as either bisexual or asexual.
The data will also indicate the level of community support that bisexual and asexual students at UMass need, due to the fact that they are a big part of what the LGBTQ+ community looks like.
The data will also be used to understand other demographics of the LGBTQ+ community such as race.
Beemyn also stressed the importance of the optional choice to indicate gender and/or sexuality, as there may be applicants who do not feel comfortable answering the question, or may still be questioning their identity at the time.
In the future, they also hope to use this type of data to look at the number of LGBTQ+ students who’ve applied to the University versus the number of students who’ve committed, and see whether the campus outreach to the LGBTQ+ community is reflected in their numbers.
In terms of a greater sentiment of campus support, Beemyn said that this is a strong reflection of the University’s “UMatter at UMass” campaign. Giving students the option to identify their gender and/or sexuality on SPIRE shows that the University cares about individuals in their entirety.
According to Crystal Nieves, the Assistant Director of the Stonewall Center, this new option will be an informative tool to better understand the campus demographics. However, she also noted her hope that, in the future, SPIRE will include gender pronoun options as well.
Nathalie Amazan, a sophomore political science and legal studies major, also commented on the recent changes to SPIRE with the “UMatter at UMass” campaign.
“I haven’t seen any real substance with the ‘UMatter at UMass’ campaign, it kind of feels like the same ‘No hate at UMass’ campaign when they don’t really have anything backing it up,” Amazan said. “I think that yeah, it’s great that you can put in your preference now, but I don’t really see the value in that as much.” Amazan continued, “it’s good that you have the option but I don’t see it as that ground breaking.”
In terms of the future for incoming students, Amazan feels hopeful for them.
“I think that for incoming freshman when they see that, they’ll definitely see that the campus is inclusive and cool, but I think it can be a little misguiding,” Amazan said. “When you put your preferences, and we [UMass] are including everyone, but I think if you’re not doing anything active on campus to show that you care for these students, then that is kind of meaningless. I appreciate them doing it, but I just hope that they put some actual action behind it.”
Amazan also mentioned that she would like for the University to do more for LGBTQ+ students, such as bringing back the Baker Hall’s gender-neutral bathroom, and supporting and advertising Stonewall Center events.
“I would like to see UMass doing things that reflect what they say they stand for,” Amazan said.
Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected]