Letter to the Editor: Creating Spaces: A Letter to the Editor about Transgender Students and Their Right to Space on College Campus
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Letter to the Editor
Creating Spaces: A Letter to the Editor about Transgender Students and Their Right to Space on College Campus

Usually, one does not seek sophistication on social matters in small towns. The assumption of the stereotype is that people in small towns do not have very open minds; that somehow, their perception is jaded by religious and ideological beliefs and that they are set in their ways. These perceptions serve to conjure up certain biases and this researcher and small-town boy is not all together certain that they are not true. One such social question is, how do we treat our transgendered populations, whether student or faculty/staff? What do we know about the rights of these individuals, how do we respect privacy issues, and what policies do we have in place to protect our populations and do we understand these policies?

What I know to be true in my vast experience as an educator is that people bring their perceptions to work with them, both good and bad. We would like to think that we all leave our biases at the door, but more often than not, we cart them right inside of the building with us. For the most part, we alter them to the extent that political correctness becomes a part of our mantra. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to consider as we look at the surmountable issues that face modern college and university communities today.

Understanding the rights of individuals under the law is also important, as many institutions establish barriers in an effort to protect individuals who may be transgendered. However, these institutions actually may be in violation of the law without knowing that they have breached the rights of the individual. [End Page 93]

I was college president at a mid-sized institution in a small town. We were faced with a dilemma that involved an African-American transgendered student. The student was approximately 20 years of age, and started dressing as a woman during his first semester with the college. Generally, the campus community did not respond with a negative flare; as a matter of fact, the campus climate was rather liberal and accepting. There were the occasional jeers that students might make within the boundaries of their immaturity, but there were no protests or blatant disrespect for the individual. As time passed, the student began to transform even more succinctly. It became more obvious that his choice was not to just look feminine, but that he was taking on the full complement of femininity and the process was going to be permanent. The issue did not come to fore until the student stopped using the men’s room, and began frequenting the ladies’ room. Obviously, a woman walking into the men’s room sporting a dress would stand out; a woman in the ladies’ room who is known to be male also stands out. Therefore, the question for the administration was, “what do we do?”

To my surprise, students were on board. Actually, I was proud of the maturity of the attitude of most of the students. What amazed me were the attitudes of some of the faculty and staff who were noticeably upset about the “restroom” arrangements. Considerably, people were worried that because this student appeared to resemble the opposite gender, they knew that biologically, there was still a male in the ladies’ room. Also, consider the fact that these were gentile conversations not to be had in good company. These were situations where it was appropriate to whisper about what people thought and what was the truth, and we had to tread lightly as not to offend. Once again, I was proud of our community and its willingness to be both proactive and civil, but the problem loomed larger that I had imagined. People were bothered by the existence of this anomaly in their presence. It was the proverbial “elephant” in the room, and we remained perplexed about the solution. The campus was not known for racial tension, and this was an African American student who was part of a population that represented nearly 6% minority...