Following concerns about pronoun use in the classroom and the lack of resources for trans students at Barnard Health Services, the queer and trans communities are hoping to make campus more inclusive prior to the implementation of the College's new transgender admissions policy.
The new policy, which the board of trustees voted on last June, will allow all applicants who self-identify as women to apply to Barnard, officially admitting trans women with the incoming class of 2020.
But some students point out that some parts of campus still aren't welcoming or supportive for trans students.
"It's not a one-step decision where trans women are coming, and we're not going to change anything," President of GendeRevolution Kay Ferguson, BC '18, said. "There needs to be changes in the school. That's not a 'please,' that's not a 'can you.' It's a requirement."
Ferguson met with Barnard President Debora Spar and Dean of the College Avis Hinkson in October to voice concerns regarding the implementation of the policy.
At that meeting, Ferguson pointed to pronoun use in the classroom and the resources available at Health Services as areas that have caused discomfort for gender non-conforming and trans students at Barnard.
Students have expressed concern over several instances when Barnard faculty members have not respected a student's pronouns, Ferguson said.
Loie Plautz, BC '19, shared an experience they had in a First-Year Seminar class where a professor continued to misgender them, even though they had told the professor what pronouns they used.
Plautz said that when a classmate of theirs referred to them using the pronouns they, them, and theirs, it resulted in the professor leading a 30-minute discussion on pronoun use.
"He was posing questions to the class about what would be less confusing than using they/them pronouns and suggested that I alternate he and she pronouns at one point," Plautz said. "I kept raising my hand and insisting that we stop talking about it because it wasn't a question of style. It was just what I prefer to use."
"I was just sitting there so uncomfortable and, like, on the edge of having a panic attack nearly at one point," they added.
Plautz acknowledged that some faculty choose to be educated on gender-inclusive language, while others seem to be "willfully ignorant."
For that reason, Plautz wants faculty to undergo sensitivity training, an idea echoed by Ferguson.
"It also worries me that faculty aren't already required to know about things like preferred pronouns and that it's not within our school's culture, at least on an administrative level, to ask for pronouns," Plautz said. "A lot of schools, that is part of the culture. I think that Barnard has to move towards that, especially as trans women start attending."
College Dean Avis Hinkson said that there is no required course or workshop currently in place to to educate faculty on gender-inclusive language.
"Having a required course [on gender-inclusive language] is a pretty involved process," Hinkson said. "Recommendations certainly can be made, but a decision on that would go before the faculty."
But Hinkson said that there are conversations regarding diversity happening during NSOP, where "language around ethnicity, the LGBT community, all different segments of our populations" are discussed.
Max Binder, CC '18, said that since it's rare for professors to ask students on the first day of classes to state the pronouns they use, there is a tendency for students who do bring it up to feel singled out in class.
"If I were to bring it up, I would feel like I was making a spectacle of myself," Binder said.
Another issue that Ferguson would like to see addressed is having preferred names on CUIDs and class rosters—they currently only list legal names.
But Hinkson said that the College does not have control over names listed on IDs and rosters. Since students from Barnard and Columbia cross-register for classes, Barnard shares data and rosters with Columbia, whose computing system does not include the option to list preferred names.
Still, Ferguson said that not allowing students to use their preferred names can lead to other students outing trans students, which could put those students at emotional risk.
"You give your ID to someone, and it says the wrong name or a very coded gendered name. First of all, you're immediately outed," they said. "Second of all, that's another safety concern. Third of all, that person can give you a hard time."
Both Ferguson and Krish Bhatt, BC '18 and the social media chair of Barnard's LGBTQ club Q, said that health services on campus are not properly prepared to address needs specific to queer and trans students.
Ferguson and Bhatt believe that Barnard's Primary Care Health Service alienates trans students because its services are geared toward cisgender female students, given that doctors use gendered language when treating students and only have diagrams depicting female anatomy present in the office.
Hinkson said the College is looking to providing support for trans women and has addressed staff at Primary Care about updating its material.
"I know that there were some concerns expressed to me about posters and, I guess, flyers or what have you in Primary Care, and I had mentioned that to the staff over there that they may need to, just take a look at some of the materials that they have posted on their walls in terms of making sure that the environment is welcoming to all students," Hinkson said.
Still, Bhatt said that in order to be inclusive of trans students, Primary Care needs to hire urologists and practitioners who have experience dealing with trans medical issues in addition to the OB/GYNs already on staff.
Despite the concerns with Primary Care, Bhatt said they believe Barnard's Well Woman—a health and wellness student education resource—will be easily able to adapt and have more inclusive sex education to accommodate trans women on campus.
Hinkson said that in addition to the services provided by Primary Care, the college also has other resources to accommodate trans women.
"There are counselors within Furman that are specifically focused on the LGBTQ community," Hinkson said. "Student Life offers a number of clubs and conversations that would be welcoming and are supportive of the community."
But Bhatt said that there is a shortage of staff to handle mental health concerns of queer and trans students. "Furman and CPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] aren't that helpful because they have one token queer therapist," Bhatt said. "Then all the queer kids get sent to the same therapist ... [and] you're just generalized."
Binder said that although they have been able to talk to a counselor from CPS about different issues in their life, they have heard of instances where sessions between counselors and transgender students turned into conversations solely about gender.
"It's not just to go in and have the meeting just be like all about gender because it was mentioned, but rather be able to process your things and deal with issues that come up," Binder said.
Jaleel Williams, CC '19, said that there seems to be a focus on short term psychological issues over bigger problems at CPS, resulting in a lack of connection-building between counselors and students. This can leave trans students "extremely vulnerable" when they disclose their problems to counselors, according to Williams.
"It seems to prioritize your mental health, you need to put yourself at even more risk than you already are," Williams said.
Ferguson said that while Spar indicated she would work with members of the administration to address the concerns, [members of the queer and transgender communities] want to be be included in the conversation and provide an outside perspective to help make these changes possible.
"I love this school. I'm trying my hardest to make this school better," Ferguson said. "I want students to come here and feel safe, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, race, mental and physical capabilities, class, all the 'isms,' all of the important factors of who they are. And this is why I'm doing it."
Cauveri Suresh contributed reporting.