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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Trans Policies Progress

In a move signifying some progress in university policy toward transgender students, the university has placed a transgender student in housing with other students of the same gender, amid ongoing conversations about changing housing and registrar policies that affect transgender students.

Since meeting with university officials for the first time last April to discuss transgender issues, student LGBTQ activists have addressed an array of topics, including the representation of transgender students’ preferred names on their GOCards.

Celeste Chisholm (COL ’15), a former trans* representative for GU Pride, said that when she returned to campus this fall after studying abroad last spring, the changes in the university’s responses to transgender students felt sudden.

“I’ve actually seen more of a sharp change,” Chisholm said. “For one thing, I used to be housed in the basement of Copley Hall by myself in the handicapped room that was obviously meant for wild cards, and my junior year I was housed in McCarthy Hall in the boys’ section. But this year they actually housed me with three other girls in Village B. It’s great. It’s wonderful and nobody cares.”

In the past, Georgetown’s policy has been to house transgender students with students of the gender they present as “full time,” although “full time” was not always clearly defined, according to transgender students. This is related to Georgetown’s policy to not recognize non-binary genders, which Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson expressed last year, spurring some negative student reaction.

Chisholm’s housing fits with the “full time” policy. Lexi Dever (COL ’16), the current GU Pride trans* representative, said she is living in a single in Copley Hall, and not the basement room Chisholm was given a few years ago.

Gender-neutral housing, which would allow students to live with roommates of any gender, has been a point of student advocacy and a focus of some Georgetown University Student Association candidates’ platforms in the past few years, to limited avail. During last year’s GUSA vice presidential debate, all candidates said their tickets would support gender-neutral housing.

Dever said the presence of openly transgender students on campus has helped to advance these policies.

“Right now we have four or five openly transgender students at Georgetown for the first time,” Dever said. “We have actual students fighting for their actual rights. This is simultaneously getting more things done and building awareness among the whole community.”

One issue that student activists are also discussing with administrators is how GOCards identify transgender students. Many transgender students are called by something other than their legal name, and their preferred names are oftentimes placed in parentheses or quotation marks on the ID cards.

“I still have those parentheses, and it’s terrible. It’s uncomfortable because you are basically outing yourself to everyone you interact with,” Chisholm said. “These aren’t nicknames of ours. They are the names that we go by every day. It’s a real name.”

Student advocates and the University Registrar are working to expand this policy for now so that all students who regularly identify with a name other than their legal name can have their preferred name included on their GOCards in quotes or parentheses in order to prevent transgender students from being singled out.

Currently, students have to go through LGBTQ Resource Center Director Shiva Subbaraman, who then contacts the University Registrar, in order to add acknowledgement of their preferred names on their GoCards.

“We are hoping to make it so that it doesn’t have to always be Shiva. It could be a chaplain, a professor or any university member who can advocate for the student to say that their preferred name is something they are really serious about,” Dever said.

In response to these concerns, the University Registrar is working toward being more inclusive and accommodating to the needs of transgender students at Georgetown.

“Whatever we decide to do would have to accommodate the needs of individual students for privacy and flexibility around a very emotional issue and at the same time allow the university to have accurate academic records, but I don’t see any reason why we can’t find a way to accommodate both of those imperatives,” University Registrar and Assistant Provost John Q. Pierce said.

The most significant change, however, has been in the overall culture at Georgetown.

“Our students are at heart very understanding people,” Chisholm said. “The biggest change I’ve seen is the culture surrounding these issues and how the bureaucracy of Georgetown is allowing for students to make these interactions with trans students, and I think that’s the most important part.”

This year’s New Student Orientation included a conversation about gender and gender identity during training for orientation advisors.

“As an OA, we did spend some time during training discussing the topic of the gender pronouns that our new students might identify with. There was a concern among staff that we weren’t creating a welcoming enough environment for transgender students,” Orientation Adviser Alexandra Smith (COL ’17) said. “I’m proud to be at a place where we can have these discussions, but there’s a long way to go before that’s an integrated and central part of all university policy.”

Both university officials and student activists within the LGBTQ community plan on continuing these conversations throughout the semester to make Georgetown a safer and more accepting place for transgender students.

“I’m not sure if we agreed to a clear solution yet, but I know that there is a clear solution,” Chisholm said.

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