When policy changes are made by the US Department of Education, administrators are sent what is called a "Dear Colleague" letter. After the heartbreaking news last night that #45 will be rescinding the protections that have been afforded to trans students under Title IX, I knew there would be a letter waiting for me this morning. And oh what a doozy.
"The purpose of this guidance is to inform you that the Department of Justice and the Department of Education are withdrawing the statements of policy and guidance" reflected in President Obama's 2016 Title IX directive. Obama's 2016 "Dear Colleague" letter offered schools guidance on providing protections for transgender students in public schools and was a welcome perspective for many in my field of work. Reading today's letter, my face became flushed and tears came to my eyes.
Today's ass-backwards letter, signed by the acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the DOE and the acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the DOJ, also tells us "Please note that this withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment." I'd LOVE to know how those two sets of guidance can exist alongside one another.
As a higher education administrator, I cannot tell you how troubling this is to me and to a great number of my colleagues. Please know that I personally do not know anyone that sees this action as forward thinking or as good news. Offering protection and then suddenly rescinding it creates a sense of unrest, uncertainty, and fear among students - students who we have a mission and a responsibility to protect and educate. I wish I could tell them that their concerns are unfounded or that everything will be okay. I cannot.
Let me state unequivocally that I believe this makes students of all ages less safe, more open to ridicule, and gives institutions and individuals permission to place greater value on some groups of students over others. There is no data to support that all-gender restroom facilities put people of any age at a greater risk of danger. State-mandated or vigilante-style public bathroom monitoring, however, has a real potential of increasing violence against transgender individuals and will certainly single them out as targets for abuse and ridicule.
For those who do not know, research shows that trans students encounter high levels of discrimination and harassment on campuses. The 2015 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct (surveying 27 colleges) found that trans and gender-nonconforming students experienced greater rates of sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, and stalking than any other campus group. That same year, the U.S. Transgender Survey - the largest study ever conducted of trans people in America - reported that nearly one-quarter of the college student participants who were out or who were perceived as trans had, on campus, been verbally, physically, or sexually harassed. These are some of the reasons why in 2016, the US Departments of Education and Justice sought to increase protection under Title IX by including gender identity and expression as part of the protection against sex discrimination.
Transgender people who are bullied, rejected, or discriminated against have a higher rate of suicide attempts than cisgender people. More than half of the students bullied at school due to anti-transgender bias attempt suicide. Statistics of violence against transgender individuals are absolutely shocking. One in two transgender individuals will be sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives. Some reports estimate that transgender survivors of violence are 1.7 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than cisgender survivors of violence. Seventy-two percent of victims of anti-LGBT homicide were transgender women and 67% of those victims were women of color. Please put these numbers in perspective by considering that transgender victims and survivors only make up about 13% of the total number of hate violence reports. Only 13%, and yet trans women accounted for almost three-quarters of the year's total hate violence fatalities. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2016 saw the highest murder rate of transgender individuals ever recorded.
I am very limited in what I can do as an individual, but please know that I will do everything I can to ensure that students, my colleagues, and people in general have access to the facilities and the simple, decent support and respect they need, not just in my own limited purview as an educator - but as a human being in the world.
My office will always be a safe and nondiscriminatory environment. Regardless of the backward nonsense in this directive, according to this Dear Colleague Letter I still have a duty and responsibility to "take prompt and effective steps to end the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects." I will.
In my office, I will always respect students' chosen names and pronouns.
I am bound by law and by the professional requirements surrounding my job to maintain student privacy regarding campus records. I personally extend this regard for privacy to conversations and other encounters.
I see it as my personal responsibility to ensure any environment under my control is safe and inclusive, to the absolute best of my ability.
By definition, it is the goal of educational professionals to disavow ignorance and attempt to inform the unaware, the insensitive, and the obtuse. We are meant to create individuals who leave us better citizens than they were when they arrived. It is also my job to leave this Earth as a better citizen than when I arrived. If there are things I need to learn, I hope you will be patient enough to teach me; if there are things I misunderstand, I hope you will help me find clarity. And I hope that together we can force this type of ignorance from our consciousness. It has no place here. It is not welcome.
"Ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant man is diversity." - Robert F. Kennedy