We received the following response from Maureen Keefer, Assistant Dean of Students at Robert Morris University, after we published our story, “Campuses in the Pittsburgh area: Diverse? Maybe. Inclusive? Not so much.

A core value at Robert Morris University is that “individuals matter,” and faculty and staff across the institution genuinely embrace this value. Every student’s experience on campus is important to us, so I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your recent article regarding one student’s concerns. I hope to provide some perspective about the work being done at RMU to ensure that our campus is an inclusive and responsive community.

In addition to broad diversity training sessions our Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity offers regularly to all faculty, staff and students, our Office of Multicultural Student Services provides specific “Safe Zone” training for individuals who want to serve as allies for the LGBTQ community. Faculty and administrators also work closely with our Student Alliance For Equality to support their efforts to ensure a safe and supportive campus environment.

Last spring, the university formed a transgender accommodations committee, which I chair. We survey best practices throughout the higher education landscape and evaluate our own campus environment in order to make changes and provide recommendations to our university leadership. One of the first requests brought to our attention was the need to update the university records system to allow students to replace the birth name in their record with a preferred name, both for self identity and to allay any fears about harassment or personal safety. We are sensitive to the concern raised in your article that this is not an easy process. In certain instances, the law requires RMU to recognize students by their legal names. However, we are committed to accommodating students who have this request, and we have modified our records systems accordingly.

Your article references a class and a textbook on “deviant behavior,” which are criticized as being “outdated and offensive” [by a student]. This seems to be an unfortunate misunderstanding, one that I hope to clarify. The goal of the sociology course in question is to explore how societies determine cultural norms, how they stigmatize and label groups that don’t identify with those norms, what effects those labels can have and how norms may change over time. It’s especially relevant here, as this process is unfolding today in our society for those who identify as transgender.

I hope my comments help to illustrate how we value the contributions of each member of our campus community. “Individuals matter” is ultimately a recognition that every person adds to the richness of the RMU experience. Of course there is still work to be done, and my colleagues and I will continue to look for ways we can support and enhance inclusion and diversity for everyone on our campus.

Maureen Keefer
Assistant Dean of Students
Robert Morris University