Starting this fall, students applying to the University of California will have the option to choose among six gender identities listed on undergraduate admissions forms: male, female, trans male, trans female, gender queer/gender non-conforming and different identity.
The identity choices, officials said, are intended to help serve the student body of each campus.
"When a university has better information on their student population, better decisions can be made about allocating the resources to support students," said Kate Moser, spokeswoman at UC's office of the president.
Students may decide whether to declare their gender identity on the admissions forms, Moser said. The university system previously had offered just two gender options: male and female.
Gender identity is not to be confused with sexual orientation, said Davidian Bishop, director of UC Irvine's LGBT Resource Center.
"Sexual orientation is who we tend to have affection for," Bishop said. "Gender identity is the way we perceive our own gender."
Johan Mosquera, a former student staff member at the resource center, said he believes the change will help students whose self-identity does not conform with their biological sex.
Often, he said, those students experience certain difficulties. "This could be harassment, hate crimes or even hearing: 'You don't belong in this bathroom' … No one should have to experience that."
The expanded categories were suggested by the UC system's LGBT Advisory Council as part of an effort to gain a better understanding of student needs and experiences.
"Before, the only place that had asked these questions were undergrad experience surveys or campus climate surveys," said Pamela Brown, UC vice president for institutional research and academic planning. "To understand the student population as a whole, it's incomplete to only do that through surveys."
The voluntary self-identification is for demographic purposes, Moser said, and does not affect an applicant's chance of getting into any of the universities.
In a statement, UC President Janet Napolitano said: "UC is working hard to ensure our campuses model inclusiveness and understanding. … We must continue to look at where we can improve so everyone at UC feels respected and supported."
Chan writes for Times Community News.