UND President Andrew Armacost Opening Remarks from 1/14 News Conference on draft gender inclusion policy, and news conference recordings

Please find below YouTube and Vimeo links of UND’s 1/14 news conference; as well as President Armacost’ s opening remarks

If you’d would like to download the video, you can use the Vimeo link. There is a download button in the middle of the page.

https://vimeo.com/666075807

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfcEP5Z4q6w

Good Morning, I am Andrew Armacost, and I serve as the President of the University of North Dakota. Thank you for joining us.

I am here today to address your questions about our university’s draft policy on gender inclusion. On Tuesday, the North Dakota Catholic Conference director, Christopher Dodson, issued a letter to constituents that raised concerns about this draft policy. We respect his opinions and ideas, which I have carefully considered as we reviewed this draft policy. I reached out to Mr. Dodson yesterday and we had good discussion about our points of agreement and disagreement. I also assured him that his concerns are important as we revise the draft policy.

The University of North Dakota is committed to the well-being of all members of our campus community. Those who have heard me talk about my core values know that my first principle is to love your people.  Each student or employee is entitled to be protected from harassment or discrimination. The draft policy is intended to state our support to our LGBTQ members and, in particular, to our transgender and non-binary members, with that same guarantee of access to education and fair employment without fear of discrimination or harassment. This is what it means to love your people.

Let me address the BASIS OF THE DRAFT POLICY. Federal law supported by Supreme Court and federal court decisions have added sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes for discrimination in employment and in education. The State of North Dakota similarly offers protections. In 2020, the State’s Department of Labor and Human Rights announced it was adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its list of human rights laws the department enforces. State law is also informative with its definition of discriminatory harassment in education. Finally, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education adopted a system policy, NDUS 503, that describes the use of Chosen Name in our university system.

The draft policy came as the result of the work of a campus committee, the changes to NDUS policy, and the changes we saw in federal law. These are the same laws that led to the changes made by the State Department of Labor and Human Rights that I cited earlier. The goal of this draft policy was to address issues of gender identity and expression in one accessible and informative document.

Since the public comment period, local legislators have raised their concerns and we have had helpful conversations with them. Each conversation I have about this policy—whether for or against–is useful.

Let me address specific elements of Mr. Dodson’s letter that I believe need clarification.

  • “Failure to adhere to the policy would be a violation of UND’s Discrimination and Harassment policy.” This is not the case. Referring to someone by the wrong gender could only be a policy violation if it was done intentionally and meets the definition of harassment: that the behavior is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal access to UND programs and activities. This is consistent with the definition adopted by the state legislature in the last legislative session regarding student-on-student harassment.
  • “The proposed policy applies to on-campus housing, which UND requires for all freshmen.” This is misleading, as it implies that a student is locked into a particular living arrangement. There are exceptions granted to this requirement for any number of reasons. The process of getting an exception is well-described in our housing policy manual. Further, the process of making a roommate change is also well-described.
  • “An individual will be assigned housing according to their “expressed gender” rather than their biological sex.” This is not true. The draft policy doesn’t discuss the specifics of the housing assignment process. The language in the draft policy is intended to offer assurance that trans and gender nonconforming students will be provided access to housing consistent with their gender identity. Here’s how the process works: students are assigned to housing roommates based upon their legal sex. The Housing Office will work with students whose legal sex is not consistent with their gender identity to identify a living arrangement that would allow them to be most successful. In situations where a gender-neutral assignment is made, all roommates must agree to the assignment. Students are also able to change roommates for any reason.
  • “In fact, no one, apparently, can inquire about the individual’s actual sex.” Housing decisions are, in fact, made based on biological sex. If you are assigned a room with another person, their biological sex will be the same as yours.

The consequence of Mr. Dodson’s statements has yielded widespread confusion and misinterpretation among many people in the community.

Further, there was no imminent approval of this draft policy, and I am confused by the timing of his letter, which insinuated an urgency that, frankly, wasn’t there.  In fact, because of the Catholic Conference’s comments on the draft policy we received in October, I cautioned my staff that we need to take our time in revising this policy, to consider the wide set of inputs we had received, and to seek additional input following revisions.

As I look for common points of agreement, here is the important concept that I think we both agree on: how do we create a campus environment that is safe for everyone and free of harassment and discrimination. This applies to our LGBTQ+ groups and to our religious groups alike.

The federal government, the Supreme Court, and the state of North Dakota describe what it takes to create such an environment. As the leader of this great public university, I have an unwavering commitment to ensure each and every human being on our campus is treated with dignity and respect and is afforded protections under the law.

With me today are Donna Smith, our UND Title IX Director, and Troy Noeldner, our Director of Housing,

They will join me in answering your questions.

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