When the three trans* activists charged with participating in the direct action campaign against gender segregated bathrooms last month went before the SJB on Wednesday, they didn’t go alone. Alongside them stood more than 40 of their friends and allies who packed the lobby of North College in a display of solidarity and support. This energetic but civil crowd included students, professors, and even two supporters from New Haven who had read about the hearing on the Internet and drove up to condemn the University’s response to the actions.
The official SJB protocol allows those accused to invite witnesses to give testimony. Many of those assembled at North College had prepared statements wherein they intended to creatively ‘bear witness’ to the injustice of the proceedings, while refusing to give incriminating testimony in direct relation to the events themselves. In effect, supporters successfully staged a sort of filibuster of the hearing which ultimately lasted a grueling 4.5 hours.
Aside from the massive display of solidarity, which over the course of the afternoon transformed the North College lobby into a temporary encampment of snoozing, snacking, card-playing, homework-doing, carpet-lounging supporters, many things about the proceeding were irregular. For one, the administration had stationed a particularly burly PSafe officer to stand guard at the door. Furthermore, Dean Scott Backer insisted on being present throughout the hearing, the questioning, and the witness testimonies. Reports from inside indicate that he repeatedly interrupted or attempted to cut short the witness testimonies, and at one point threatened to table the hearing entirely despite the fact that dozens of witnesses were assembled outside waiting to testify.
“Not only was Scott Backer there, but he also intervened several times in the trial, so he was an active participant in the SJB trial…. Obviously it’s difficult to react and defend yourself in that situation where there just are no rules, because Scott Backer can make up the rules on the spot.” -Witness
In what was perhaps the most egregious breach of protocol, administrators violated the supposed confidentiality that SJB defendants are entitled to by prematurely leaking the result of the hearing to The Argus at a time when the accused activists were still waiting to make the verdict public. This was an ironic twist, as it is this same notion of ‘confidentiality’ that the SJB used to justify the lack of transparency in the hearing — the defendants were forbidden to record or broadcast the proceedings and journalists were barred from covering them.
Despite these irregularities, the members of the board responded promptly to the hot press of angry, energetic bodies occupying the lobby outside. Shortly after the hearing commenced, it emerged that the scope of the charges were being dropped from every building on campus that was degendered over the course of the campaign to only one set of bathrooms in the Usdan Student Center. This meant that the maximum fine the accused could be asked to pay had dropped drastically from $5,245 to roughly $400. This alone was counted by the students outside as a substantial victory.
Meanwhile, the direct action continues with new bathrooms being degendered, even as the SJB reportedly goes forward with fresh charges against additional students they say were implicated in the testimonies.
EDIT, 12/8/13, 8:20 PM: As a commenter points out, Section IV – D – 2 of the Student Handbook clarifies that “At [a simplified] hearing, the board shall meet with three voting members present—although permitted, advisors do not normally attend simplified hearings.” Thus, Scott Backer’s presence at the hearing was permitted. The above article has been amended for accuracy’s sake.