In the wake of the controversial article published by URI Gender and Womens Studies Professor Donna Hughes, many at the University are questioning just how well transgender students are treated on campus. Photo by Greg Clark.
After weeks of fallout following the publication of an article written by a University of Rhode Island professor Donna Hughes that many community members have deemed transphobic, questions have arisen as to how transgender students feel on campus.
Many students have voiced that the University has failed to protect transgender students against hate speech, citing past concerns that students in Hughes’s classes have expressed.
“I’ve been to a few town hall meetings and heard so many gender and women’s studies majors and minors who have talked about their experiences in [Hughes’s] classes,” said Shannon Walthall, the president of URI’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA). “This was known in the department for a while, but it’s only coming to light now, which adds to a lot of frustrations.”
Despite this, Walthall believes that URI has generally done a good job of fostering a safe and inclusive environment for trans students. There are many resources for transgender students, according to Walthall, including accomodating admissions and housing options that ensure students feel comfortable.
They also noted that many faculty members and professors make conscious efforts to be inclusive, such as asking for students’ preferred names and pronouns.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Andrew Capron, a transgender student and resident advisor.
“I have felt nothing but welcome here for the most part, especially with the Gender and Sexuality Center,” Capron said. “It has been so nice to have a place where I can go and talk to other people who have had the same experiences and be able to make friends within the LGBTQ+ community.”
While Walthall and Capron think that URI is working to create an inclusive environment for transgender students, they both believe that it needs to do a better job supporting the University’s transgender community through its actions.
Walthall said that all students should feel that the campus is safe and the University will not allow any issues to be ignored or covered up.
“I know that they are trying to make sure we know that we’re accepted on campus, but there’s so much more they could be doing in terms of actually voicing their support for the trans and LGBTQ community,” said Capron.
This includes the ongoing fight for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. The University promised students this accommodation years ago, but they are still limited and a problem that many transgender students deal with.
The inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms was announced in 2013, but in a meeting with the Student Senate in 2019, a group of trans and non-binary students detailed what it is like to have to walk to another building to use the bathroom, and called on URI administrators to have at least one gender-neutral bathroom in each building by the Spring 2020 semester.
“We still have issues like this on campus, yet it’s not being fixed,” Walthall said. “How can we know that [the University] really has our backs if the problems we’ve been talking about before haven’t been fixed?”
Both students expressed appreciation for community members’ displays of allyship on-campus and online.
On March 31, SAGA hosted an event on the Quad to celebrate the Trans Day of Visibility. The event attracted a crowd that was “larger than anticipated” who came to voice their support for trans students during a particularly difficult time.
“The Trans Day of Visibility came at such an important time,” said Walthall. “We wanted to say, ‘We see you. Let’s band together in love and respect and caring about one another.’”
For Capron, it is especially meaningful to know that the views of certain people on campus do not reflect the views of everyone else in the URI community.
“I know for other trans people, it’s so hard knowing that there are people out there who don’t like you just because of something that you can’t change,” Capron said. “But the outspoken support from so many people on campus and all of these events are really helpful, knowing that we’re not going through this alone and that there are people who are fighting with and for us.”