Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Recently I was privileged to attend a trans student panel hosted by the Multicultural Education Department. Five Guilford students talked about their experience discovering their identity and navigating systems that are still woefully unresponsive for trans and other gender nonconforming students.
The turnout was good — but it should have been most of campus.
Trans students, who identify as a gender different than the one assigned to them at birth, and gender non-conforming students, who do not fit neatly into a binary of male or female, often have an uphill battle for the most basic of everyday dignities.
Being able to use a bathroom, sleep in a dorm or have others use your correct name are things most cisgender (that is, non-trans) students, like me, take for granted.
But not everyone at Guilford can. Like most institutions, we are mixed bag when it comes to supporting trans and gender nonconforming students.
Our new gender-neutral housing policy and the few gender-neutral bathrooms on campus are a good start, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
“Just the fact that Guilford is thinking about these things is what I’m excited about, which is why I chose to transfer here,” said junior Eric Kelley.
Information, though, about what Guilford offers is not always easy to access.
“I know we have recently adopted a more gender-neutral housing policy, but a lot of people don’t know about it … and who it’s meant for and who it’s not meant for,” said Kelley.
On an institutional level, a number of simple things need to be fixed.
“I feel like there should be more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus,” said first-year Sonia McLamb, secretary of Pride. “If I wasn’t feeling comfortable going to the men’s or women’s, and that has happened at one point this semester, I had to walk all the way back to Milner from Hege.”
First-year Terry Daniels, president and reviver of Queer People of Color, also raised the possibility of a theme house specifically for trans students and those who do not fit gender binary.
“I feel like that would be really, really cool, and we’d be living in a supportive community,” said Daniels.
Kelley is working on implementing some basic training on trans issues into the First Year Seminar curriculum, but training should not be limited to FYS classes alone.
“I feel like there needs to be … diversity training for everyone,” said Daniels. “Not just for trans students, but for everyone, so we can be a more inclusive environment.”
These institutional solutions are important, but there is another step that we, as cisgender students, can take — educating ourselves.
When the MED hosts events like Trans Awareness Week, take an hour or so out of your week. Go the panels. Ask questions. Do research. Get answers. Ask more questions.
We have the privilege of having courageous students and staff on this campus who are willing to share their time and experience with us, and we can all benefit by hearing what they have to say.
If Guilford is to hold true to its values of community, then we must invite everyone into that community. And to do that, we need to be able to understand other people’s identities so we can treat them with respect.
After all, what is more basic than getting someone’s name right?