When Liam Lassiter, a transgender first-year student who identifies as male, first applied to the University of Richmond, he applied as a woman coming from an all-girls boarding school.
“I was assigned a girls’ orientation group," Lassiter said. "I didn’t really know what to do, so I emailed my OA telling her that I actually identify as male."
Soon after, he received a phone call from Richmond College Dean Joe Boehman.
“I was so scared, but all he ended up asking was which college would I feel more comfortable in," Lassiter said
Lassiter was able to choose which college he wished to affiliate with and chose Richmond College. Boehman connected him with a staff member who identifies as transgender as well.
“Honestly, since I’ve been here, the coordinate system really hasn’t played much of a role in my daily life,” Lassiter said.
But, situations like Lassiter's bring the binary of the coordinate college system to the forefront for administrators.
Although both Westhampton College and Richmond College stopped using “women” and “men,” respectively, to refer to their students, both are still associated with these gender identities.
The language change, as well as recent shifts toward a less segregated campus with the addition of co-ed first-year dorms, have led to rumors among the student body about the future of the current structure of the coordinate college system, students said.
But, the coordinate college system will not disappear anytime soon, Chiara Solitario, Westhampton College Government Association president, said.
Students can expect to see a change in how the two colleges are being discussed, Boehman said.
“We’re moving away from the term ‘coordinate colleges,’" Boehman said. "It’s a historical term, and when people hear that they think certain things that, quite frankly, we are not any longer.”
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“With having a binary system set up, you want to make sure that we're making it more inclusive for students who don't fit, because we definitely don't want to advertise ourselves as being just for men or just for women," Kylie Britt, the president of Students Creating Opportunities, Pride and Equality (SCOPE) said.
SCOPE is an activist group that recently hosted Making and Breaking Traditions, an event encouraging students to discuss and offer suggestions for old and new traditions on campus.
“A prospective student who is maybe non-binary or trans may see something as simple as representative language, and they may go, 'Oh, someone's thinking of me even if I don't fit into a male's college or a woman's college,'" Britt said.
These changes in language reflect the goals of UR, Westhampton College Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni said.
Both deans expressed that any shifts in language reflected a movement toward a more complete understanding of how the two colleges function already and were not indicative of potential structural changes.
“The language has finally caught up to what we've been doing," Boehman said.
The coordinate system has historically been a progressive system, with former UR President Frederic W. Boatwright explicitly stating in UR’s constitution that the two colleges are equal in stature, a revolutionary idea enacted six years before women had the right to vote.
But, for students like Lassiter, having two gendered colleges is an expression of a binary that no longer represents the entire student body.
“I really appreciate the history behind the coordinate structure, but I don’t know how long it can hold with new understandings of gender," Lassiter said.
At their cores, the two colleges exist to support their students, Genoni said.
“Tell us who you are, and we’ll love you,” she said.
Solitario shared this sentiment.
“To me, the coordinate system just means double the love, double the help, double the support,” Solitario said.
The continued development of the coordinate college system is also partly due to its platform for larger conversations about gender, Genoni said.
For Boehman, who has focused much of his work on toxic masculinity, this is particularly pertinent when discussing the goals of RC.
“If we don't address ways to move that conversation forward — the problems of misogyny, of sexual assault, of homophobic behavior — if we don’t address positive ways of looking at masculinity and more authentic expressions of masculinity and if we don’t give men the opportunity to be more of who they are rather than following the brainwashing they’ve been getting for 18 years, none of those other things are going to change," Boehman said.
While both colleges will continue to evolve to best fit the needs of their students, the only changes students should expect to see will be in the language of the system and a continued accommodation and support of those who identify outside of the gender binary.
“How you talk about things matter," Boehman said. "For me, it puts a new spin on what we are, and hopefully that language will create a new perception.”
Contact news writer Logan Etheredge at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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