Laverne Cox has recently risen to stardom with her role in the popular Netflix series "Orange is the New Black." Richmond will host the actress on Sept. 29 to speak about a different topic: her experiences as a transgender woman and activist.

The free student tickets for the event became available at 9 a.m. on Sept. 1, and were gone by 3 p.m. that same day.

Jordan Nguyen is the Committee Chair for Lectures, Entertainment, Arts and Diversity in SpiderBoard, the student group that came up with the idea to bring Cox to campus. Nguyen said the student body was really excited for the speech.

He said that bringing Cox to campus was a “good way to bring a very cool, popular and relevant person [to campus] who is also doing good work in promoting the empowerment of all types of people.”

After the initial idea to host Cox, SpiderBoard partnered with other organizations on campus, including Common Ground, to make it a reality. 

“The reason we brought Laverne Cox in is we’re hoping that students can get deeper than what [they] see on TV,” said Ted Lewis, associate director of Common Ground for LGBTQ campus life. “Seeing Laverne as not just a character on TV but as a full person. What would it mean if Laverne was a student here at UR? How would she experience our campus?” Lewis said.

The mission of the Common Ground office, he said, is to achieve a thriving, equitable campus community deeply engaged with the broader social world — a community that is dedicated to everybody thriving, and where everyone can bring their full, authentic self to the university.

“We’re still getting there,” Lewis said.

However, under President Ayers’ leadership, Lewis said he had seen a dramatic growth in diversity and inclusion efforts. There is a new LGBTQ lounge space in the Tyler Haynes Commons that opened in 2012. Also in 2012, the university became one of the first schools in Virginia to add gender identification and expression to its non-discrimination policy, Lewis said. “Basically, this means we don’t discriminate against transgender people on our campus, whether it’s admission or employment," Lewis said. In 2012, Lewis became the first university faculty member with a LGBTQ-specific position at Richmond.

Lewis said he thought student attitudes around LGBTQ issues had shifted to be more accepting. “I don’t think that’s solely because of the University of Richmond,” he said. “I think it’s also because people like Laverne Cox and the media have also represented more LGBTQ people.”

Cox is visiting our campus on the centennial of Westhampton College. “One of my goals is to let people know that Laverne Cox would be welcomed as a Westhampton woman,” Lewis said.

Juliette Landphair, dean of Westhampton College, agrees. "The purpose of Westhampton is to bring women equally into the educational enterprise," Landphair said. She sees accepting female-identifying students into Westhampton as a natural evolution of what that means.

“There is a student right now who is a Richmond College student ... but wants to transition over to Westhampton," Landphair said. "I have no problem with that, neither [Dean] Boehman nor I do.”

To further explain this, Landphair referenced a quote by Cox given during an interview with "Time Magazine": “There is not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience. And I think what [the American people] need to understand is that not everybody who is born feels that their gender identity is in alignment with what they’re assigned at birth, based on their genitalia. If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is OK.”

Cox will be visiting campus to give her talk, "Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood," on Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. in Camp Concert Hall, sponsored by the Gottwald Speakers’ Bureau, Common Ground, SpiderBoard, WILL, WGSS, Westhampton College, SCOPE and the Modlin Center for the Arts. There will be overflow space for Richmond students, faculty and staff in Keller Hall, where there will also be a live stream of Cox’s talk.

Get tickets for Cox's talk and other information at: http://commonground.richmond.edu/laverne-cox/

Contact reporter Katie Mogul at katie.mogul@richmond.edu

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