Here’s What Campus is Doing, and Can Do, to Protect the Rights of Transgender Students

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Courtesy of

Olivia Biel , Contributing Writer

In a 5-4 decision on Jan. 22, the Supreme Court allowed President Trump’s transgender military ban to go into effect. The ruling comes after the Trump Administration’s proposal for a definition of gender that, if legalized, would equate it to biological sex. A White House memo received by the New York Times defined sex as male or female and unchangeable, thereby invalidating transgender identities.

But while the administration fights to erase the transgender community, William Paterson can make it more visible. It can protect transgender identity and rights – and they are trying, but staff and student leaders on campus say they can do more.

“William Paterson does a pretty good job,” said David Pardave, president of the Pride Alliance. “They do recognize [transgender students] as a community, but Willy P. definitely has its flaws.”

The Women’s Center provides a variety of resources for LGBTQ+ students, including a list of where to find gender neutral bathrooms on-campus. Mental health resources and information on gender-inclusive housing is also readily available. Last semester, William Paterson hosted the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honored lives lost in acts of violence against transgender people.

However, transgender students often deal with transphobia from peers who mock non-binary identities, and even their professors, some of who refuse to call students by their affirmed names instead of their birth names.

“The biggest issue is the lack of education,” said Arlene Scala, chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies department. “We need to transform campus culture. You do that with mandated workshops.”

Scala also said that classes in all departments should incorporate transgender figures into their lectures. Doing this would show that transgender people are just like other people, especially since they are often presented as “freakish” in popular culture. It also validates transgender students in the classroom. Students could also be encouraged to listen to transgender speakers that come to campus, Scala said.

Matthew Diaz, a trans student and president of the Intersectional Queer Association on campus, said his friend dropped out of a class after feeling severely uncomfortable by ongoing transphobic comments from a professor.

“It’s unfortunate. Students should be able to get the most out of their educational experience,” Diaz said. “Students do what they can to survive, because of how difficult and uncomfortable the process would be to report [instances of transphobia].”

Diaz said the IQA is currently working on the installment of a Multicultural Center, which would provide more services and resources to LGBTQ+ students.

“Our hopes are that it will provide a lot of research programs and address different issues in the community,” Diaz said. “Advocacy, campus resources, the ability to talk to administration and faculty, work on different policies, revise old policies.”

Diaz said he would also like to ensure that the Health and Wellness Center is providing transgender students with proper health care, and assist those who want a medical transition.

The university is working on fixing the way class rosters are made, so that students’ affirmed names show up next to their birth names in hopes of preventing the outing of transgender students without their consent.

William Paterson’s current enrollment application asks for sex, and gives two options: male or female, then reads, “If you would like the opportunity, we invite you to share more about your gender identity below.”

Diaz, Scala, and Pardave all said that “intersex” should be included along with “male” and “female.” There was also agreement that it is great that the campus is making an effort to be more inclusive. Still, all three suggested that more gender options be included in order to normalize non-binary gender identities.

Diaz said it is especially important for cisgender students and professors to work on changing their everyday language and customs on campus. For example, during class introductions, it should be routine to give pronouns, and gender-neutral terminology should be used in addressing all students as opposed to phrases such as “ladies and gentleman.”

But above all, Diaz said, cisgender students should take it upon themselves to call out transphobia.

“If you see trans people in class being discriminated, be willing to speak alongside that person,” Diaz said. “Don’t wait for a trans person to call out an issue. Be the one to say what your pronouns are even if you’re not trans.”