Discrimination — state-mandated or otherwise — has no place on a college campus.
President of the University of North Carolina Margaret Spellings announced Thursday that the university will enforce House Bill 2, a new North Carolina law limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the state. The law strips transgender individuals of the right to use public bathrooms that don’t align with their biological gender, and localities can no longer establish standards that state otherwise.
Students are protesting in response to Spellings’ announcement, pushing their school to “fight against HB2.” UNC’s position as a public university makes that battle more complicated than ignoring the law — the school can’t outright refuse to follow a law created by the government that funds it.
But the school must work around the bigotry of its state’s new law by bolstering the spaces and resources supporting marginalized students.
North Carolina’s law infringes on student rights protected by Title IX and staff protections established under Title VII, which both federally outlaw discrimination based on gender. HB2 never should have existed, but now that it does, a lengthy and expensive court battle is likely the only way to remove it.
Still, changing the internal policies of UNC to avoid the law’s baseless requirements can limit HB2’s actual effect on students.
While UNC cannot legally allow students to use facilities that do not align with their biological or legal gender, it decides how these rules are enforced. If the university decides to not take action against people for being who they are, HB2 will have a reduced impact on students’ on-campus lives. Spellings’ announcement implied that this would be the case.
But truly defending students requires more than turning a blind eye to an unjust rule.
UNC can provide more gender-neutral bathrooms, circumventing the need for people to use bathrooms labeled specifically for one of the binary identities. Without designation, there is no requirement for students to meet it.
As North Carolina communities begin falling in line with HB2, there will likely be a greater chance that trans students will face discrimination once they cross campus boundaries. UNC can support its students by expanding counselling services. An increased investment in the school’s LGBTQ+ support initiatives can go a long way toward ensuring students feel safe and validated.
Even while constrained by forces largely outside of its control, UNC can make itself an ally of communities under siege and desperately in need of one. This will be a busy and trying time for all of UNC, but the school must take an active role in showing that students’ well-being come first.
The state has already failed its transgender residents. UNC’s campus shouldn’t follow suit.