OPINION: Pitzer’s response to Trump’s trans memo was too little, too slow

Graphic by Anikka Sophia Villegas

It’s my third year writing an article for Transgender Day of Remembrance. I plan to keep writing them as long as I’m here and the Editorial Board is willing to publish them.

This year’s article is coming early, but not for positive reasons. I, unfortunately, must address the memo published on Oct. 21 by the New York Times detailing the Trump administration’s reactionary plan to define gender specifically and only by genitals and gender assigned at birth, immutable and ingrained in genetics.

I also must address the lack of response to the memo by 7C administrations and the burden this places on trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and intersex students to out ourselves and devote our time and labor to making our voices heard.

Simply put, the response Pitzer College students specifically received from our administration was too little, too slow. The majority of the actions taken at Pitzer, especially by the administration, only happened after Victor Ultra Omni PZ ’19 and Aleo Pugh PZ ’19 sent a letter out through the student-talk listserv on Oct. 27.

“In the event of a national tragedy or concerning legislative advancement of particular relevance to the student population, Pitzer typically sends out a campus-wide email,” Ultra Omni and Pugh wrote. “However, after nearly a week has elapsed following the news of the internal memo, no administrator, faculty or Consortium-wide resource/cultural center has made a public statement condemning the memo, offering institutional support, or reached out personally to trans students on campus.”

On Oct. 30, Mike Segawa, vice president for student affairs, sent an email to the Pitzer community, stating the memo ran “counter to Pitzer College’s Core Values of social responsibility and intercultural understanding.” In his email, Segawa offered a list of campus resources and offered support from the Office of Student Affairs for trans, non-binary, and intersex students. He also announced a town hall meeting to be held by the Queer Resource Center on the topic, along with the Trans Empowerment Week.

I want to trust that Segawa and the rest of the OSA administration deeply care about the safety and health of trans students on campus and want to help in any way they can. I sit on an advisory committee Segawa has convened on the issue and every gesture OSA has made seems like it’s coming from a good place.

The problem is still how slow and hollow so many of these gestures actually are. The college’s outreach has not extended beyond the Claremont campus, despite our supposed values of “social responsibility and intercultural understanding.”

Pitzer urges its students to work with groups in the surrounding area through the Community Engagement Center and take classes off-campus through the Pitzer in Ontario and Inside Out programs. So, to ignore the repercussions this memo has on communities outside of campus is nothing less than irresponsible.

Ultra Omni and Pugh point this out, writing that “although we raise an alarm to these silences, we are not surprised given the failure of the colleges to [respond to] the genocidal rate of trans women of color murdered each year which has steadily increased. These silences also remind us of the absence of Black trans women across institution of higher education. … In times of political crisis higher education has historically been a site to resist fascism.”

For students like me, Ultra Omni, Pugh, and others, surviving is a task as time- and energy-consuming as school or any job. Getting through every day without falling apart and putting on a cool, collected facade that does not draw attention to us is a burden even without school or work.

I admire Ultra Omni’s and Pugh’s selflessness in this time as they strive to utilize their power as students in higher education to force change even as the world collapses around us.

Beyond simple marginalization — and less simple legal delegitimization — the burdens placed on trans students are exhausting. We are consistently demanded to advocate for our own basic safety on- and off-campus, and to explain to the administration why responding rapidly to our concerns is part of their job.

If the 5Cs value all their students (and I hope they do), they need to respond rapidly, reaffirming their commitment to us and their belief that we are valuable as human beings above all else when the rights of any student group are threatened. To dawdle until after there’s been outrage from students is irresponsible and implies that they don’t really care.

I understand that the news of the memo fell over fall break, when most students, staff, and faculty were taking a well-deserved vacation from school responsibilities. But, this does not absolve OSA or similar groups of their responsibilities or even give them a real excuse for their slowness: Disaster happens without regard for scheduling, and students’ health and safety do not take vacations just because the school does.

Outside community-specific resources, like the QRC, the group that I have seen put the most effort into supporting trans students at Pitzer is the Pitzer Student Senate.

I am a co-sponsor of a resolution that would call for more gender-neutral restrooms on campus, pressure the administration to invest grant money into trans women of color in higher education, and set aside Senate reserve funds as an emergency fund for trans students. Said resolution is slated to be introduced this Sunday, Nov. 11.

I do not believe the resolution is perfect, for Senate’s power as a student-run organization is limited. But, we are exerting pressure on the school administration to make change and are putting funding we have toward the cause. That, I can say without a doubt, is more than the Pitzer administration has actually done, despite their greater power and resources.

There is some small hope: On Tuesday night, the Democrats took back the House in midterm elections, essentially forcing Congress into gridlock and making it harder for President Donald Trump to enact proposed policies or legislation. The fact that it’s less likely that Trump will be able to enact his transphobic policies doesn’t make Pitzer’s response any better.

Going forward, I believe Pitzer could effect the most change if it put aside funding for current trans students, mandated QRC ally trainings for faculty and staff, encouraged marginalized trans students to apply to the college, and gave Consortium resources like Student Health Services and Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services the funding and staff they need to actually provide trans-specific services.

More than that, when the next crisis inevitably rises for another marginalized group of students, I expect Pitzer will respond in a timely manner and utilize its resources fully to support whomever is in Trump’s crosshairs next. I hope that the college will learn from its mistakes and not fail yet another group of students.

I hope, I expect, I believe, but I’m not holding my breath.

Donnie TC Denome PZ ’20, CGU ’21 is a 4+1 Bachelors/Masters public health major from Sunnyvale, CA, and one of the opinions editors for TSL. Send them covers of Simon & Garfunkel songs at donnie.denome@tsl.news.

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