Students frightened by Trump’s anti-trans memo, frustrated by colleges’ silence

Students gathered in the Queer Resource Center for a write-in advocating for trans rights in response to President Donald Trump’s recent memo. (Jessica Phan • The Student Life)

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s memo affecting the rights and recognition of transgender people, students at the Claremont Colleges expressed feeling fearful and angry at the colleges’ administration for their tepid responses and support.

The Trump administration issued a memo Oct. 21 that defined gender as purely biological, which negates the existence of transgender people and threatens their protection under the law.

Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr sent an email to the school three days after the memo came out, acknowledging the memo, providing resources for support, and re-affirming Pomona’s commitment to “uphold the fundamental rights of our transgender community members, including the right to work, teach, study, play and live with dignity and peace of mind.”

The Queer Resource Center issued a support statement Oct. 31 that expressed solidarity with non-cis students and also recognized the delay in response time.

“We apologize that this statement was not issued earlier and we fully acknowledge the hurt and frustration that this may have caused members of our community,” the email states.

Scripps College spokesperson Carolyn Robles wrote in an email to TSL that the college showed its solidarity with its students by “sharing the statement issued by the QRC, activating person-to-person support systems, organizing SCORE programming, and providing information about QRC resources.”

Harvey Mudd College Spokesperson Judy Augsburger also wrote that HMC stands behind the QRC statement and forwarded the statement to its students.

Peter Hong, a spokesperson from Claremont McKenna College, wrote that the college “is committed to upholding the rights of our students,” and suggested the Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Nyree Gray as a resource for students.

Mike Segawa, the vice president for student affairs at Pitzer College wrote in an email to the student body Oct. 30 that the memo went against several of Pitzer’s core values. “During this time of unrelenting pressure on our society’s most marginalized populations, please be assured that Pitzer continues to adhere to college policy and California law which prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in the administration of educational programs.”

Mel Gilcrest SC ’19 said the memo was devastating, yet unsurprising. As a transgender man, the memo confirmed all of his fears about “what the administration thinks about you, and how either the majority or a vast proportion of the country thinks of you as subhuman or not even real,” he said.

Gray Butler PO ’20 identifies as non-binary and finds the memo difficult to engage with because they know “that this is just the beginning of a series of forms of violence,” they said.

Gilcrest described the colleges’ response as “very lukewarm as best.”

“If [the administration is] going to claim to really support [its] trans students and tout that as something that is unique about your school, you [have to] walk the walk instead just of talking the talk,” he said.

To Butler, the lack of support from the administration did not come as a shock, but it did make the reality of the memo harder to face.

“Part of the trauma of what’s been happening is constantly being let down by the systems that are supposed to, in theory, protect you,” they said.

Connie Walden PZ ’22 and Daniel Molina PZ ’22  spray painted “@ Pz, why the silence?” and “we will not be erased” over the trans flag on the Pitzer’s free wall to express their discontent with the administration’s lack of action.

“With certain issues like this, there is a certain timeframe in which it’s appropriate to respond,” Molina said. “[With] the Pittsburgh shooting, Pitzer responded within a few days. They took up to a week or more to respond to the whole trans memo.”

Walden still felt that the statements that came out were not sufficient.

“These emails just feel like PR statements of support, as opposed to ‘Here is how we are going to change our present policies and structures so we can be better,’” Walden said.

Student organizers Fernando Barcelo PO ’20, Chaelee Dalton PO ’19, and Sal Fu PO ’19, along with assistance from the Physics and Astronomy Department at Pomona College, coordinated and held a town hall at the QRC on Nov. 2 in response to the Trump memo. It also organized Trans Empowerment Week Nov. 5-9, a series of events including a letter writing campaign Nov. 6, where students wrote letters to their representatives protesting the memo.

A few of the concerns brought up by trans students at the town hall included the lack of health care offered for trans students at the 5Cs, along with needs for stronger allyship training for professors and students, changing dead names in the systems, and sending out a full email response to memo with accessible and updated resources for support.

Starr reassured students and reiterated the college’s support at the town hall.

“We want to be here for our community in as many ways as possible and if we miss something, please tell us, because we want to do everything that is possible to make your lives livable, enjoyable, fruitful, and safe,” she said.

This article was updated Nov. 10 at 4:12 p.m. to add a statement from Pitzer College Vice President for Student Affairs at Mike Segawa. 

This article was updated Nov. 11 at 11:05 p.m. to change the photo.

This article was last updated Nov. 16 at 2:51 a.m. to contextualize how the town hall was organized at the QRC.

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