One hundred ninety-six Boston College faculty members signed an open letter to the University criticizing the demographic portion of its “Boston College Faculty & Staff Experience Survey” for excluding intersectional identities.
“In not providing diverse response options, Boston College as an institution fails to accurately capture the lived truths of its many diverse community members,” the letter reads. “What is the purpose of asking these questions and collecting this information if aspects of identity are intentionally excluded?”
The open letter called on staff and faculty members to utilize the open response section of the survey to write in their identities, use a free response section to ask the University to better advocate for marginalized communities, and contact David Trainor, vice president for human resources, and David Quigley, provost and dean of faculties, to ask them to be better allies.
Avi Bauer, co-writer of the letter and digital initiatives and scholarly communication specialist at BC Law Library, said that as a transgender person, he was uncomfortable with how the survey presented demographic options.
“I know that the gender question in particular placed my nonbinary colleagues in an awkward and uncomfortable position of having to incorrectly sort themselves into a binary framework,” he said. “And even as a binary trans person, I felt intentionally excluded by the framing of the demographic questions.”
According to the letter, the demographic data section of the survey—which also asked for information about race, gender, marital status, and disability, among other affinities—failed to provide adequate response options.
“The wording of the question asking about gender in the survey shows an intentional exclusion of the transgender, nonbinary and genderqueer community,” the letter reads. “The gender question offers only ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ as options, excluding nonbinary, transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, agender, or any other gender identity.”
Bauer said there was a follow-up question in the survey about sexual orientation, but not one about transgender identity.
“The university was uninterested in collecting data about the thoughts or experiences of its transgender and nonbinary employees – which is an important first step in addressing the issues transgender and nonbinary employees at BC face,” he said.
The letter argues that the survey erased the identities of faculty and staff across the BC community.
“In excluding many identities, the data collected will provide fewer insights to understand the nuances of the BC community,” the letter reads. “This will make policies, support systems, and institutional structures less equipped with the tools to be agile in responding to the needs of the BC community.”
Members of LGBT@BC—a faculty association that supports the LGBTQ+ community at BC—raised similar issues with BC’s administration when the faculty experience survey was last administered in 2019, the letter said. In response, the University added a final short-answer question asking if any identities were missed in the survey.
“No consequential changes to the content or structure of the demographic section of the survey were made,” the letter reads. “This short answer question is not sufficient overall, as it puts the onus on respondents to list their identities that were excluded in the prior questions.”
Several BC employees who expressed their concern about this year’s survey met to discuss the best way to call attention to the issue and decided on an open letter format, according to Bauer.
“We worked collaboratively on the content of the letter, and worked together to research potential alternative demographic questions that we could offer as a starting point for future surveys,” Bauer said.
Bauer said he hopes this letter raises awareness about the issues that nonbinary and transgender employees face at BC.
“It is easy to fill out a survey and then forget about it, so I hope this letter helps continue the conversation across the university about how we can better support our transgender and nonbinary community members, starting with something as simple as inclusive data collection,” he said.
Featured Image by Ben Schultz / Heights Staff