Transgender students’ comfort and safety on Carlow’s campus

By Bri Griffith // junior Creative Writing major // Editor-in-Chief

According to The Healthy Minds Study, a national survey of over 14,000 students on campuses across the United States, 32.7 percent of transgender respondents thought about attempting suicide in 2013.

In addition, 28.2 percent of transgender respondents worried someone would notify their parents of their transgender identity.

It’s been four years since this survey took place, and still, transgender high school and college students across the United States are grappling with their identities, as well as finding safe places to use the bathroom.

According to an article on “The Washington Post,” Gloucester high school student Gavin Grimm sued the Gloucester County School Board in 2015 in federal court. Grimm argued that the board’s policy barring him from using the boys’ bathroom violated Title IX, the federal law against sex discrimination in schools.

Although Grimm’s case was to be heard by the Supreme Court on March 28, it was ultimately rejected in early March due to President Donald Trump’s administration announcing a change in policy “on the transgender issue,” according to NBC News.

In May 2016, the Obama administration issued a “sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity,” according to a “New York Times” article.

According to an article on “The Telegraph,” in February 2017, the Trump administration “ended federal protections for transgender students that instructed schools to allow them to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities.”

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, was quoted on “The Telegraph” saying, “Reversing [Barack Obama’s] guidance tells trans kids that it’s okay with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”

Are college campuses doing enough for their transgender students? Simon Caccia is a senior transgender student at Carlow University. He said in an interview, “My freshman orientation week was a little rough.”

When first becoming a student at Carlow, Caccia lived on a girls’ floor, which he called “hellish.” “After my freshman year, they made the fourth floor coed. I love the idea of a coed floor because it’s trans friendly, and good for people whether or not they’re out and whether or not they fit into the gender binary,” said Caccia.

Jennifer Carlo is Vice President of Student Engagement, Student Affairs at Carlow University. She said Carlow’s housing policy is a “work in progress.” Carlo said Gwendolyn Stevens, Assistant Director of Campus Life, Residence Life at Carlow University, alongside other members of Carlow’s campus life are looking into what other institutions are doing as far as students being assigned roommates according to the gender with which they identify. “If I had been able to have [a coed floor] my freshman year, I would have felt so much better,” said Caccia. Stevens said all students are encouraged to work with campus life for housing questions.

Caccia recalled an issue last year with people “going into the wrong bathrooms” while living on the coed floor. “For the first time in my life, I was told, however indirectly, that I wouldn’t be welcome in a girls’ restroom, and it was really empowering,” said Caccia.

“Over the last few years we’ve created a number of gender neutral bathrooms across campus any student can use,” said Carlo.

Carlo said students should use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Caccia said the coed floor was a big and wonderful step, and he knows that Carlow “won’t tolerate any transphobia from students or staff.”

In addition, any transgender student interested in counseling can contact either Nicole Lacey or Chloe Heimbuch, Mental Health Counselors on Carlow’s campus. Carlo said, “In at least one case, a counselor worked with a student to find more specialized resources,” as the student needed more in-depth support than what the campus could provide.

As far as campus involvement, the LGBTQ+ club isn’t very active, but Stevens said, “They’re present, and they’re always looking for new energy, so please reach out to campus life if you’re interested [in joining].”

Dr. Harriet Schwartz, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Carlow University, along with a group of students, created Carlow United in response to the November 2016 election results ruling in favor of Donald Trump. It reads on Carlow United’s Facebook page, “We seek to create a culture of empathy, even among people who disagree. We believe there is no room for hate. You matter. Let’s take care of each other.” Stevens said Carlow United is a “broader LGBTQ+ group rather than just for trans students,” but that she knows a few trans students who participate in the group and “find it helpful.”

Stevens also said, “Both Residence Assistants and First Year Mentors receive training with PERSAD to make sure our student staff is aware of trends, terminology, and ways to support students.” PERSAD CENTER is a “human service organization whose mission is to improve the well-being of the LGBTQ+ communities, and the HIV/AIDS communities,” according to their official website. There are PERSAD service centers located in both Pittsburgh and Washington, PA.

Carlo said, “Carlow in no way will be changing their policies or procedures to reflect those guidelines,” referring to the Trump administration’s policy changes regarding transgender students.

Although Caccia’s orientation week was difficult, he said he had “a lot of help that year,” especially from his Resident Assistant, friends, and the Carlow Police. Caccia also said, “I remember the joy I felt when I first saw informational pamphlets about trans people in the nurse’s office. I also appreciate how accommodating the staff is when a trans student changes their name.”

Caccia said he’s heard horror stories from friends at other universities about trans students not being allowed to use their preferred names, although “cisgender students can use nicknames like ‘Yeti’ in class.” “I’m really glad Carlow isn’t like that,” said Caccia.

Although Caccia mentioned he’d like a place on campus specific to LGBTQ+ people, like an LGBTQ+ floor in the residence hall, he said, “I feel safe here. Carlow is doing a lot for its trans students, and I’m really proud of that.”

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