Seeking a more trans positive campus culture

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

The following is an opinion article and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Tulane University boasts a very diverse campus, with students from all over the United States and beyond. This is exceptional for a school located in the South, and with this broad base comes a variety of people with individual identities and needs. Undoubtedly, most of these needs are catered to by various offices and student organizations. Even now, though, transgender students of our university have been mostly ignored, their needs only just now beginning to be recognized.

Over the course of the past few years, the Department of Housing and Residence Life and the Student Health Center have made strides in enacting policies intended to offer students the respect they deserve. Outside of these primary services, however, transgender students continue to experience discrimination on campus. This is most critical in classrooms, arguably the most important place on a university campus.

Professors continually misgender students, ignoring their preferred names and pronouns. This can be categorized as an act of violence: disregarding a student’s very identity by using she/her/hers pronouns when a student prefers he/him/his, or by refusing to use the singular they/them/theirs for students who don’t identify with traditionally gendered pronouns. With workshops and sensitivity training, there is little excuse. Tulane must act to protect its students, actively working to make classrooms a safe space for all students.

This isn’t to say that trans students only experience discrimination from professors; for many, just walking around campus isn’t a safe experience. Raelin Alpert (pronouns: she/her/hers), a junior in the School of Science and Engineering, has experienced her own fair share of discrimination as a transgender student.

“As a trans person, you can’t go around campus without constantly asking yourself, ‘is this person going to react negatively?'” Alpert said. “It’s kind of shaped how I choose to present, how I choose to dress on campus. I can’t express my femininity without receiving any sort of side-eye.”

Addressing the presence of discrimination amongst the student body is difficult. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, harmful as they may be to others, but discrimination within classrooms must be addressed. Students are paying for a world-class education; it is difficult for students to excel in their classes when their professors don’t respect their pupils’ identities.

“I recently had a professor tell me that I should be ready to debate my own identity, which is in and of itself a form of violence,” Alpert said. “That my identity is something to debate. In a classroom setting, no less.”

The OneWave initiative encourages a unified, safe community for all, though many professors continue to treat it as an optional policy, acting under their own rules. With varied opinions on the matter of transgender rights, this leaves many students by the wayside. And to make campus a safer space all around, classrooms are the first step.

Foster Noone (pronouns: they/them/theirs), a Tulane sophomore, spoke on the steps that should be taken to correct this negative environment. After addressing the matter of bad classroom experiences, they discussed the importance of educating the professors first.

“I think that greater understanding of intersectionality and oppression, across all the staff, could at least make sure that classroom environments were safer for trans students and for other students on campus,” Noone said.

“I think that continuing education is a process, not an endpoint,” Noone said. “Having regular sessions, yearly or biyearly, would be at least a step in the right direction.”

Though this might seem like an irrelevant or harmless issue, even the simple act of ignoring a person’s identity contributes to the larger issue. Roughly one in four trans people have faced a bias-driven assault. Since the beginning of 2015, 14 transgender people had been murdered in the United States.

Without action, this trend isn’t just going to end. And, though these statistics are national, Tulane University can do its part by providing a positive environment for marginalized students.