Editor's note: The article has been updated to correct factual errors.
In response to anti-transgender messaging put in female and all-gender bathrooms on campus, a panel of transgender members and cisgender allies of the University of Richmond community had a message: listen to the needs of the transgender community, create spaces where those that don’t identify with the gender binary can feel visible and welcomed, and support as inclusive a community as possible.
“We as a community need to try to do better,” said panelist Kaylin Tingle, UR's sexual misconduct prevention educator. “Showing up to events like these, having conversations, checking our own biases we all have and checking the biases of the folks around us, the folks we love, and having those tough conversations. We just need to keep showing up.”
The panelists also discussed how the conversation around transgender people and trans-inclusivity has changed in recent years, what TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) meant to them, what the campus community and community at large was doing to better support the transgender community and what still needed to be done by the community to help heal the generations of trauma done to the transgender community by the cisgender population.
Panelist Dr. Milo Wilson, a psychologist at the Counseling and Psychological Services on campus, discussed how that type of healing could begin.
“I think one place to start is to hear trans narratives and to truly create spaces for transgender people to be seen and heard and not be told that the way they’re showing up is wrong or is invalid,” Wilson said. “Hearing when people are coming in and believing their trauma, believing if someone said ‘that thing really hurt.’ Being a supportive place, rather than just kind of brushing it off. I think that is a very important part.”
In terms of how gender-inclusivity could be reflected on UR’s campus, panelist Mia Reinoso Genoni, dean of Westhampton College, wanted to emphasize that greater inclusivity was already beginning with the relationship between Westhampton and Richmond colleges and with education on gender-inclusivity for all first-year students at orientation.
“We do not use the word 'coordinate' anymore,” Genoni said. “It’s a barrier to feeling included. We are two but we are not binary.”
Both colleges also send welcoming letters in August to all first-year students explaining the ceremonies of Proclamation and Investiture. Within that letter, Genoni said, they give first-year students the opportunity to change their college affiliation if they so wish.
At orientation, Genoni said, all first-year students attend two orientation sessions about gender inclusivity, one led by Westhampton College and one led by Richmond College. They first attend the session led by their college and meet to discuss the topics in their orientation groups after.
Other offices and departments around campus have developed ways to be as inclusive as possible. Panelist Jamie Lynn Haskins, chaplain for Spiritual Life, expressed that the campus chaplaincy is welcoming of students of all identities and faiths and will not tolerate violence against people from marginalized communities.
Panelist Erika Zimmermann Damer, associate professor in the classics department and program coordinator for the Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, explained that she has in-class exercises where students experiment using other pronouns to understand the fluidity of gender and gender identity.
In the biology department, panelist and visiting professor Kathy Zoghby said she teaches her students about gender identity in biology, and how the understanding of gender has changed in recent years to be less binary and more fluid.
Lindsey Paul, senior and president of Westhampton College Government Association, attended the panel to help show WCGA’s support for the campus transgender community.
“One of my takeaways was just how many different ways there are to approach trans identity and inclusion and how many different ways there are to be allies,” Paul said. “WCGA members have been going to all the events this week and are meeting with different student organizations on how we can best support them, and we are always looking for ways to be the best supporters we can be.”
The Office of Common Ground and WGSS co-sponsored the panel as part of a week-long series of events in support of trans-inclusion on campus. Lee Dyer, associate director for LGBTQ Campus Life, moderated Thursday's panel, which included voices from various related departments on campus.
Glyn Hughes, director of Common Ground, helped organize the panel and was in attendance.
“We wanted to have a series of pro-trans events on campus in response to the stickers,” Hughes said. “It was very important for people at the institution to articulate support for people on campus who feel threatened or antagonized and also represent feminisms that are more inclusive. Feminism is not singular or static. It is really important to have open public discussions about what we mean when we say that.”
Holly Blake, director of WILL*, was also in attendance and felt that the insight of the panelists was important for campus discussion.
“It’s extremely important to state and affirm that feminism is trans-inclusive,” Blake said.
Other than just campus faculty and students, a few members of the general public were in attendance. Bonnie Atwood, editor-in-chief of Virginia Capitol Connections, attended the panel after hearing about it from a friend.
“I have been a radical feminist since the 1960s and I keep up with things that affect that,” Atwood said. “I condemn the events that led to this [panel].”
As a last word, Dean Genoni emphasized the inclusivity she wanted to promote on campus.
“Whoever you are and whatever you believe, you are welcome in my house,” Genoni said.
Contact news writer Julia Raimondi at firstname.lastname@example.org.