By Grace Hogsten
Elm Staff Writer
On Monday, Nov. 21, the day after Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Office of Intercultural Affairs sent an email that acknowledged Transgender Day of Remembrance and the tragedy of the recent Club Q shooting. It ended by telling students to “Please have a safe, happy Thanksgiving!”
The email garnered mixed feelings from transgender students. While they were glad that the school had acknowledged Transgender Day of Remembrance, they felt that it generalized LGBTQ+ experiences.
“There [were] no statistics, barely any resources, and the ‘happy Thanksgiving’ was completely ignorant to…the serious subject,” sophomore Iris Scherr said.
Supporting All Gender Experiences (SAGE) president sophomore Evan Merk pointed out that the email overlooked the importance of the day by clumping it together with current events.
“Trans Day of Remembrance is a really important day and it’s one of the only days that…we really highlight and understand how trans people are disproportionately victims of violence, and to see it looped together with…a gay club shooting…without actually connecting them. It was sort of like a newsletter…of everything that happened,” Merk said.
Assistant Dean of Student Engagement and Success Tricia Biles revealed that WC had not originally planned to acknowledge Transgender Day of Remembrance. The College sent out an email because a student requested it.
“There was a student who said, ‘Hey, this is happening, I think that we should send a College email out about it,’ and that was a great suggestion. [They] brought it to Intercultural Affairs…and then additionally, there was the tragic shooting at the club, and so since it was a remembrance day, we thought it was appropriate to put that,” Biles said.
Biles described Transgender Day of Remembrance as “a remembrance day,” illustrating the main issue with the email: Washington College generalizes LGBTQ+ experiences because it has no meaningful understanding of the prominent issues facing the community.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is not a general “remembrance day;” it is a day to highlight the violence that transgender people specifically face.
According to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime. This awareness day is necessary because violence against transgender people is so disproportionately prevalent.
The email came from the Office of Intercultural Affairs, which is responsible for a wide variety of diversity groups on campus, including those focused on accessibility, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and gender.
Because it covers such a wide variety of experiences, the Office of Intercultural Affairs has different staff members to address issues of marginalized groups. The office has hired people with specialties in race, religion, and accessibility because one person cannot do all of these jobs.
“We support all students, no matter what. We restocked [George’s General Store] through donations from the faculty and staff before Thanksgiving break because we knew we had students who were staying…that Wednesday morning when break started. I actually cooked breakfast and left a whole bunch of food here,” Director of Intercultural Affairs Stephanie Gilmore said.
The Office of Intercultural Affairs does amazing work for students, both through specific initiatives and through broader support for marginalized groups.
However, WC needs to hire more pople to work in the Office of Intercultural Affairs, specifically someone qualified to understand LGBTQ+ issues, so that it can provide helpful services for the LGBTQ+ community on campus.
LGBTQ+ experiences and identities are not a monolith; they are diverse and complex. Prejudice against people on the basis of gender has its own set of causes and effects that are different from those of prejudice on the basis of sexuality.
Transgender students at the college face a variety of issues that WC does not meaningfully understand.
“It’s frustrating to see…emails like that come out when there are still things happening to trans students…People [from Student Affairs or Public Safety] who are supposed to be the first line of defense against bias incidents against transgender people are, I feel, the ones who are the least educated about it,” SAGE vice president sophomore Farren Hauer said.
Transgender students at WC were disappointed – but not surprised – by the College’s ignorance regarding transgender issues.
According to Scherr, certain departments, such as the Writing Center, list students’ legal names when they make appointments, regardless of whether they have officially changed their name through the school. Additionally, many transgender students do not report bias incidents because they know that WC will not take any meaningful actions.
“The school leaves people feeling dismissed…like they weren’t really…listened to…and that not enough was done to protect them in the future…[Trans students who have experienced bias incidents] have felt like there wasn’t really any point in reporting it, even though they had proof or…know exactly who it was and…have dates and times and even images,” Merk said.
WC needs to take tangible steps towards protecting transgender students, starting by hiring more faculty who are qualified to understand their issues. Moreover, existing staff, particularly those who are higher up, need to treat students’ concerns with the necessary attention. Transgender students are not being silent – the college just isn’t listening.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo Caption: Transgender Day of Remembrance is Nov. 20 and recognizes violence against transgender people.