NOTE FROM BZOD: About a month ago, a group called the Pissed Off Trans* People pulled down a number of gendered bathroom signs around campus, replacing them with paper all gender bathroom signs and a manifesto entitled “All Gender Bathrooms Now.” Two days ago, an anonymous poster published the following article on tumblr under the title “Complete Bullshit: An Update on the Trans* De-Gendering Bathroom Situation.” I was contacted by the author of the post and the students being SJB’d and confirmed the story. The complete text of that tumblr post is reproduced below.
So, a few weeks back, there was an outpouring of trans* activism. I mean that like when you put a lot of pressure on a water balloon and then the water bursts out of a hole. Yeah, the water made the hole and hurt the balloon. But the water only gushed out because of all the fucking pressure being put on the damn balloon. (and why was this water being trapped in a balloon in the first place?)
My point being, yes, fed up trans* students and angry cis allies took down and broke the single-gender bathroom signs around campus. They did this because they were sick of the system that marginalizes and endangers trans* folk. This move was pretty controversial on campus. But that’s not what I want to write about today.
Today, the issue at stake is the University’s response. Now, students taking part in this action knew they were doing something illegal/against the rules/risky. As such they have remained anonymous when participating in media coverage and the action was instigated under the anonymous Facebook account PissedOff Trans* People. They provided materials on Facebook for marking bathrooms as all-gendered. These materials have been downloaded 200 times, which gives you an idea of the scale of interest and possibly participation in this action.
However, a group of 5 students were identified as participating. There is video of them entering and exiting Usdan with the de-gendering materials, and a witness who didn’t see them take down the signs, but did see them by the bathrooms right before the signs were removed. One of them lost their job through this incident, and was told they would be sent before the Student Judicial Board, and possibly fined for the cost of ALL of the signs, since no one else had been identified, even though this individual had not actually physically removed signs in Usdan and there was nothing linking them to the removal of any other signs. They met with Public Safety, and their meeting was written down as a report post facto, and PSAFE’s interpretation of this meeting is being cited as evidence for the case.
That was a while ago. As it turns out, 2 other students are also being SJB’d. “2 students?” one may ask. “But 4 other students were identified at that incident! 4 other students are caught on camera entering and exiting Usdan! Why only 2 other students?” Well, my friend, I cannot tell you why the university is only charging 3 of the 5 students caught with property damages. I can tell you that the 3 being charged were the trans* students of the group. I can also tell you that these 3 students are facing charges of over $5,000 in fines for the removal of 30 signs.
And, if you’ll remember, one of these students has already lost their job. There is NO evidence that ties these students to the other buildings, and 3 more buildings have been added to their case after it was opened because it was a “similar action.”
These trans* students are being singled out for something that was unmistakeably the effort of a large group and being threatened with a significant (and unreasonable) fine despite no actual evidence that they took down even a single sign, let alone all 30. In most cases, no damage was done to the doors/walls the gendered signs were removed from. The range of prices of the signs themselves is wide, with some being certainly cheaper than $20 (the high end being around $100). Yet they are being charged at $175 per sign, plus restitution.
At a school that likes to call itself the “Diversity University,” which markets itself to potential students in part through it’s social justice and campus activism, and claims to be queer friendly, this response to the trans* activism on campus is completely unacceptable. Why are these trans* students being singled out and blamed for the entirety of the action? Why aren’t cis participants being charged as well? Does the administration hope to silence and stop these trans* students from further attempts to advocate for their rights by radical means? Do they hope the trans* students will be pressured into identifying other participants to lessen their own share of the fine?
The process of the Student Judicial Board does not take into account the context of these actions, nor does it take an “innocent until proven guilty” stance. The pressure is on students to prove their innocence or else face the consequences. These students cannot say they had nothing to do with the activism on campus. However, in the absence of any proof that they took part in vandalism, it is unreasonable for them to be charged for these damages. It is incredibly questionable at best how these students were selected as the guilty parties. They are to be judged by 3 of their “peers” with no process to establish that these “peers” aren’t transphobic. A committee of 3 cis students to judge 3 trans* students for (allegedly) standing up for their own needs? 3 students being charged with campus-wide damages? (Tell me- were students caught participating in Tour de Franzia even charged for campus-wide damages that occurred during that event? Was every freshman caught drinking punished as if they had invented and organized the event and incited the damage? Or were they only held responsible for their own actions, their own drinking and any damage they were CAUGHT doing? So why does this much more meaningful activism merit blaming a few students for a campus-wide action?)
The response to the trans* activism on this campus is being horribly mismanaged, in my opinion.
Step up, Wesleyan University. This is not okay.
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There are a number of posts related to trans* issues coming up on the blog in the next week or two. For now, the links to our past two posts on the issue are below.