Back to school

LGBT and Trans activist, author and poet Paula Sophia. Facebook photo.

by Paula Sophia
Special Issues Columnist

Last year when I started attending the University of Oklahoma, I was heartened to learn that the university had published a non-discrimination policy that included gender identity. I sighed with relief, knowing that I had some kind of standing, if not full legal standing in state law, at least some kind of recognition in school policies.

Protections against discrimination based on gender identity are an official recognition of my existence as a human being, a path of recourse if something should happen: discrimination, devaluation, or threat. In other words, a place to feel safe.  

Now, I know there is a raging debate in the higher education programs across our country about whether or not students have the right to feel safe in an academic environment. Some say these students need to grow up, suck it up and meet the real world. They say the university shouldn’t have to baby young adults. Others say, though, the university is a place of growth, a place where people grow intellectually, maturing into the young adults they’ll be upon graduation. They say the university ought to be a place to explore new ideas, new identities, and new ways of living. It is a reasonable expectation for young people to want to feel safe during this time of exploration.

For transgender people, the university can be a place of relative tolerance, a place where they can finally be free to express their true selves. For some, it is their true adolescence, a time where they can negotiate the awkward experimentations allowed teenagers in secondary schools. For this reason, the university should set a tone that goes beyond tolerance, moving toward understanding and acceptance.

After all, there is a lot of information about transgender lives, in medical and psychological literature, in social science and humanities. Transgender is the issue of our time. Though new information is still coming through the academic pipeline, there is enough to engage an academic mind, enough to grasp, enough to know that transgender people are sincere in their identities if awkward in their presentations at times. All it takes is some study, some empathy and some accommodation.

All students should have the best opportunity to succeed, and I hope the University of Oklahoma takes their non-discrimination policy to heart. I hope the University of Oklahoma adheres to the new Title IX guidelines, letting transgender students be who they are in the academic environment, letting them feel safe in the explorations like any other student.

After all, there are universities around the country that have been doing this for several years. They have gone through the growing pains of learning how to accommodate transgender students, and I hope the powers that be will use the experience of other places like the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the University of Oregon, the University of Pennsylvania and others – all of which are listed as five star schools by Campus Pride, a leading LGBTQ student advocacy organization that strives to make campuses safe and welcoming places for all students.  

The Gayly – August 11, 2016 @ 7:20 a.m.