Beginning this coming academic year, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee will change its student insurance plan to cover transgender-related surgeries. This decision, say school officials, will make the campus environment more inclusive for students who have been going through their time at the university without the care they have needed.
USA Today's Adam Tamburin reports that the move was part of an annual review of the school's health care plan for students. Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs Cynthia Cyrus said:
"It was relatively non-controversial on our side," Cyrus said. "It was maybe a two-paragraph conversation, not deeply debated in any way.
The health plan has covered hormone therapy for transgender students for several years, so agreeing to add coverage for reconstructive surgeries for transgender members of the student body was an easy decision. Nonprofit advocacy group Campus Pride reports that 71 universities nationwide offer this policy plan.
Genny Beemyn, the Coordinator of the Trans Policy Clearinghouse for Campus Pride and Director of the Stonewall Center at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says the insurance changes normally come after students ask for the option, which is how the process began at Vanderbilt.
Rj Robles, a graduate student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, identifies as transgender and was a patient of Dr. Louise Hanson, the director of the university's student health center, and could not afford to have surgery. Robles does not identify as a woman or a man and uses the pronouns they, them, and their. They are considering breast augmentation.
Robles came to Vanderbilt after attending the University of Illinois, Chicago where surgeries for transgender students were covered. Since 2014, they had to effectively put their transition on the back burner.
Sarah Friedman, writing for the Vanderbilt Hustler, quotes student organizer and senior Shawn Reilly:
"I really think it shows that Vanderbilt is making attempts to really accommodate and accept trans people in and around the community, I think it's only in response to activists. We're not getting anything coming straight top-down. This is really a response to a few trans people who are pushing for it, which is how most change happens on our campus."
In the past few years, the university has offered gender-neutral housing and bathroom choices and has added gender-neutral pronouns to the student handbook. But there are still changes to be made, says Reilly. Students should be allowed to change their names in the school database, which is challenging for trans students who wish to change their names to one that is appropriate for their preferred gender. Also, pronouns are not included on professors' rosters.
But Tennessee Rep. Diane Black (R) calls the university's change a "stunt" and the "political agenda of liberal university administrators." She added that the school had alienated many donors, parents, and students, according to Cortney O'Brien of Townhall.
Black said that roughly 12 states have refused to adopt and implement the Obama administration's"bathroom law." It is apparent that these same 12 states will also balk at paying for sex change surgeries. Black added that in spite of the many advanced degrees that exist among the senior administration of the school, in her view there seems to be an undeniable dearth of common sense.