QA President Struggles with Transgender Exclusion and Bias

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Katie Ward and Brian Healy

Editor-in-Chief, Staff Writer

 

Grace Berg, the President of Queer Alliance (QA), is spreading her club’s message of inclusivity and tolerance, whether the University is receptive to it or not. Although Berg has faced different challenges throughout her entire time with QA, she became fully aware of it when she stepped into a leadership position.

Berg has encountered most of her difficulties helping the transgender students on campus. Berg acknowledged that the campus has become a better environment for cisgender gay men and lesbian women, but she explained that the University has not fully accepted its transgender students.

 

Two years ago, the school implemented gender inclusive on-campus housing in two dorms: one floor in Gillson, and the first and second floor of Phelan. This allotted gender inclusive housing for approximately 200 students. However, at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the school removed the gender inclusive housing in Gillson, leaving only 65 spots for non-cisgender students on Phelan’s first and second floors.

 

At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the school will stop offering gender inclusive housing in Phelan’s first floor, cutting the available space by 15 more spots. “We have this pattern of the administration waxing and waning. They will take one giant step forward and then three steps back,” Berg said.

 

Berg also serves as the ASUSF Senate Gender and Sexual Minoritized student representative. When Vice Provost of Student Life Julie Orio came to speak to Senate in August 2016, Berg questioned her about the cutbacks in gender inclusive housing. “[Orio] tried to say that they didn’t cut it, they consolidated it,” Berg said, “She doesn’t want to say that we cut gender inclusive housing because they aren’t making enough money.”

 

It was confirmed that Orio did discuss this with Berg and other senators during the Senate meeting. Orio said that some students who selected gender inclusive housing in Gillson in Fall 2015 later changed their minds after learning more about the community, and the University accommodated them, which left empty beds on the floor. This happened again in Fall of 2016, leaving empty beds in Phelan’s gender inclusive housing. As per the University’s gender inclusive housing policy, “these spaces will only be filled with students who choose to live in gender inclusive housing,” said Orio.

 

Senior Director of SHaRE Torry Brouillard-Bruce explained the cuts as maintaining a healthy environment for transgender students while ensuring that no on-campus living space is left empty. “If we make too many bed spaces available, and those don’t get filled, then what we’ve done is put ourselves into one of two situations,” Brouillard-Bruce said. He explained why the school does not assign students into gender inclusive housing if they do not want to be there. This is not just to meet their preferences, but also to meet the needs of transgender students. The University believes that transgender students should not live with students who, “wouldn’t necessarily be in alignment with what we need for gender inclusive housing,” said Brouillard-Bruce.

 

Brouillard-Bruce’s second point touched on the increasing need for on-campus housing. There is a high demand for spots in dorm rooms across campus which isn’t reflected in this residential community. “We currently do not have enough on-campus housing for the number of students who would like to live on campus,” said Orio. She added, “I am saddened to hear the quote that Grace shared and do hope that having gender inclusive housing shows the University’s commitment to our transgender students.”

 

Brouillard-Bruce said, “We want as many bed spaces for all of our students. We try to balance empty bed space with supporting the needs of gender inclusive housing.”

 

While Berg fears that the gender inclusive housing will disappear entirely, she believes that the entire campus will continue to exclude non-cisgender students until student leaders receive gender sensitivity training. Berg worked with QA Vice President Francesca Carr to address this issue directly. They held a free gender sensitivity training workshop called “Gender Expo” on March 25. Since the event was not funded, they promoted it through social media and word of mouth. Berg and Carr sent emails inviting members of all of the green and gold student organizations, as well as all SHaRE employees, with the intent to inform them on gender identity and interactions with transgender individuals. They also held a forum for attendees to ask any and all questions they might have.

 

While the event did have a strong turnout, Berg said that none of the SHaRe members who RSVP’ed showed. “No one from SHaRE came. We planned it around them too, because student org leaders didn’t want to come on a Saturday, but they were willing to do it because SHaRE would be more likely to come on that day,” Berg said.

 

As a result, Berg took a more direct approach to give her sensitivity training. Since she is also the RA for the gender inclusive housing in Phelan, she trained her coworkers during their monthly “mega meeting,” which all SHaRE employees attend. During the open mic portion of the meeting, Berg and Carr took the stage and gave an impromptu inclusivity lesson. “We didn’t ask, we just did it. We call it gender fighting. They’re not going to give us a forum, they’re not going to answer our call,” Berg said.

 

Brouillard-Bruce could not confirm or deny that SHaRE employees attended the Gender Expo, but did reaffirm SHaRE’s commitment to supporting transgender students and gender inclusive housing. “We want to make sure we have enough to support all the students who are seeking and requesting gender inclusive housing,” he said.

 

Berg believes it is essential that student leaders and all SHaRE employees, particularly RAs, take part in gender sensitivity training because transgender members of QA regularly report incidents of bias and discrimination. They communicate these cases through the Bias Education Resource Team (BERT) forms, which begins an extensive reporting process. For every form that is filed, the filer is required to meet with a BERT member in sessions “which can go from an hour to two hours,” according to Berg.

 

“I know people that just stopped submitting reports because they were doing like six a week. They couldn’t do 12 hours of meetings every week because of all the biased stuff. And then for other people, it just got to be exhausting because nothing was changing,” Berg said. When a USF community member reports a professor, the form must make its way through the University’s HR department, a process which takes even longer.

 

Associate Vice Provost for Student Life, and Dean of Students Shannon Gary is one of the two administrators who meets with students after they submit BERT reports. He responded to Berg’s claim, saying that although he has reached out to a number of students who have submitted reports through BERT, none of them have opted to attend a meeting and discuss it further. Although he has only been in the position for seven weeks, he has not encountered any students who have submitted a multitude of reports in a short period of time. For the meetings that do take place with his coworker, none of them have a predetermined length, as Berg insinuated. “There is not set time for a meeting, the meetings last as long as they need to last,” Gary said.

 

“Even if they continue to cut gender inclusive housing, my dream is that they start gender sensitivity training. Just to have general knowledge, at least,” Berg said, “Our biggest goal is to make USF a place that feels safe for queer people.”

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