San Francisco: home of the Castro, Harvey Milk’s legacy and numerous LGBTQ resources and services. The University of San Francisco: home of one and a half floors of gender-inclusive housing for transgender and nonbinary students, often misused by cisgender students who manipulated their way through the lottery. Oh, and a Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) – but where was it, again? I wouldn’t know, because USF rarely mentions it.
Coming to the University, I had high expectations of a welcoming, affirming academic space. When I went to a welcome meeting for admitted students as a senior in high school, I was pulled in by the concept of “cura personalis” (care for the entire person), the promise of diversity and inclusion and the idea of “changing the world from here.” At USF, I would be able to express myself and my queerness and have my voice be valued. But after two years at this school, USF has time and time again failed to meet those expectations – and how can I begin to change the world at an institution that desperately needs change itself?
On April 12, I organized a talk that will ideally be the first of many: Let’s Talk LGBTQ. The event was described as a safe space for Toler Hall’s residents to discuss the state of affairs on campus and how USF’s policies can be bettered for the LGBTQ community. As a whole, we had a productive discussion on what we felt our needs are as students attending this university and how we felt that they could better be met. In particular, we discussed emotional needs, spiritual needs, health and safety needs and academic needs.
One topic that came up in our discussion was a distinct lack of much-needed sensitivity training. The ideal model for this would focus on educating faculty and staff on how to better support transgender and gender-nonconforming students specifically, but would broaden out to other marginalized groups under the LGBTQ umbrella that need attention. In reference to the Campus Climate Survey that was conducted last semester, about 162 LGBTQ students reported that they had personally experienced exclusionary, offensive or hostile conduct (49 of those respondents being transgender). Even though not all LGBTQ students responded, I think that’s enough to demonstrate that LGBTQ students face difficulties here. It’s clear to see that we need more than bias reporting. The situations that allow for hostility towards LGBTQ students need to be addressed and resolved.
Overall, everyone at the talk agreed that there is a severe lack of commitment on the part of the University. For example, one student described being told that he could get hormones through USF’s health insurance plan, only to have such a hard time accessing those hormones that it ultimately proved to be untrue. Additionally, USF formally describes gender-inclusive housing as a “safe, affirming, and inclusive living option [for transgender students]…” and invites “students who appreciate and respect people with [those] identities and lived experiences.” After living with two cisgender male roommates and dealing with a Title IX case with one of them later, I can frankly say that’s not the case. It is unfair of the University to try and project itself as being LGBTQ-friendly when those exact same spaces put LGBTQ students in danger.
There are so many things that are wrong, so many things that can be improved and so many voices that remain unheard. For example, when an LGBTQ student feels isolated by their classmates and teachers, what programs are there to support them and their unique experience? While the Gender and Sexuality center exists, it gets a bit tiresome to hear the suggestion of CAPS and be handed a few pamphlets. There are wonderful, dedicated students that work in GSC, but the responsibility of accommodating the LGBTQ community should not fall on students’ shoulders.
When transgender students are seeking an accessible means of starting hormone therapy, are people in Health Promotion Services trained to assist us? Or must we again tokenize the few LGBTQ-identified staff members and beg them for help? As the administration continues to fail us, the burden of expectation becomes heavier and heavier on the shoulders of students that should be focusing on their academic career, not battling for basic rights. There are so many other things that were discussed at Let’s Talk LGBTQ. Things like group therapy programs that we would like and curricular implementations that we would appreciate. But without these critical issues being solved, we cannot begin to move forward as a community.
In February 2018, I attended IgnatianQ, a conference for Jesuit schools and their LGBTQ organizations, in Maryland. There I met a dedicated psychologist who worked with a gay student to propose and kickstart a peer-counseling program for LGBTQ students. It focused on student retention and safety. Something as simple as that program, made by LGBTQ students for LGBTQ students, would rbe a useful implementation.
So, USF. When will the lip service stop and actual service to our already marginalized community begin?
Featured Photo: A LGBTQ student’s dorm in Gillson Hall. Ali DeFazio / Foghorn