Transgender Dons: Navigating USF Outside of the Gender Binary

The University of San Francisco is a pretty gay-friendly place. We have an active LGBT Caucus for faculty and staff, many openly queer professors, and a growing minor in gender and sexuality. What we don’t have, unfortunately, is a community for transgender students or policies that address transgender issues. Don’t get me wrong—many departments and individual staff members do great work accommodating trans students, but trans students at USF don’t necessarily want to be a point of “accommodation.” We would like to see the university’s administration develop policies that directly address the struggles transgender students face at USF and remove the institutionalized discrimination that USF inadvertently engages in.

Most buildings on campus only include “male” and “female” bathrooms, reflecting the university’s perception that its students have either traditionally male or female bodies. Luckily, the fourth floor of University Center has a gender-neutral single stall bathroom. This bathroom is a step in the right direction, but buildings like Kalmanovitz, Fromm, and Koret Recreation Center on main campus don’t provide transgender students with a bathroom option. Unfortunately, Lone Mountain campus does not have a gender-neutral bathroom either. For students like me, this means that during my 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.class, I will have to go all the way to main campus to use a bathroom. If my professor asks me why my bathroom break took twenty minutes, I would have to explain that my body and identity just don’t match the university’s definition of “male” or “female,” thus making it unsafe for me to use the available bathrooms on Lone Mountain.

All first-year students at USF receive an email account and I.D. card reflecting their legal name. Changing the name on your email account or I.D. card requires official documentation from a judge citing that your name has been legally changed. Few trans university students have the money or resources to file for a legal name change, making their USF identities incongruent with their preferred name or gender. To add to that, professors receive a list of their students every semester with their legal USF-registered name. Many trans people’s legal names reflect a gender they don’t identify with. In order to be called by their preferred name in class, transgender students often have to out themselves to their professors—not an easy conversation to have with an often previously unknown authority figure.

Gender-neutral housing options, or housing that doesn’t require students to self-identify as “male” or “female,” has been discussed at USF for several years, but thus far no action has been taken.

Although trans students are often given accommodation by residence life staff (and we thank them for it), the lack of policy or streamlining of resources for trans students doesn’t make USF a very appealing school for potential students. Our dorms, aside from Phelan, are divided into gendered floors. There is no designated safe space for trans individuals to live and no policy addressing gender identity in relation to room assignment. Although USF has yet to experience a trans-related hate crime in the dorms, these crimes happen far too often at other institutions. The threat alone should be enough to produce comprehensive and inclusive policies.

Being a transgender Don will require patience and accommodation that cis-gender Dons will not experience. Luckily, there are many people in the university actively working to make USF a more trans-friendly environment. Right now, USF has the opportunity to make important policy decisions to empower its transgender students and dismantle policies that do not address the extent of its student body.

Moving into 2013, I have high hopes that USF will remain an example of a progressive and inclusive campus, emphasizing its ability to adjust to its ever changing student body in a practical, student-focused manner.

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