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ASWU votes down statement on Transgender Awareness Week

Emma Innes

News Editor

Disclaimer: Two ASWU senators, Inéz Nieves and Clara Nithiaparan, are also writers for The Collegian.

The Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) put forth a statement regarding Transgender Awareness Week during its Nov. 11 meeting. Statements must be unanimous to pass the senate. There were ten yeas, two nays, and two abstentions, with all senators voting, with one by proxy. The statement received strong words of support during discussion with none of the senators who voted against it bringing up concerns. After the vote, senators who voted yea expressed grave disappointment and frustration.

The statement expresses solidarity with transgender peers before saying: “We recognize the unique hardship, discrimination, and violence that transgender students face both on our campus and nationwide, and how gender identity intersects with race, ethnicity, sexuality, and other marginalized identities to exaceberate such hardships. We pledge our support for creating an environment that is safe, welcoming, and equitable for all.” According to the statement, Transgender Awareness Week leads up to the Transgender Day of Remebrance, a day which commerates those lost to transphobic violence. This year, Transgender Awareness Week started Nov. 13 and the Transgender Day of Remembrance is Nov. 20.

The statement pointed out the recent events that have shined a light on struggles faced by transgender students, both on campus and beyond. The Human Rights Campaign has reported [2021 as the worst year] for anti- LGBTQ state legislation. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at the time of the [press release] May 7, 17 anti-LGBTQ bills had been enacted into law in several states. This laws include anti Transgender sports bans, religious refusals, anti LGBTQ education and more. More than 250 pieces of anti-LGBTQ lesgislation has been introduced in state legislatures. Since the May press release, more legislation has been signed. According to an Oct. 25 [press release] on a Texas transgender sports ban bill, the number was up to 25. A Human Rights Campaign [Nov 9 press release] reported that 2021 was also becoming the deadliest year on record for transgender and non-binary people.

The statement calls upon Willamette administration and faculty to take action to provide a safe spance for transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming students The statement also called for Willamette to uphold it’s [stated commitment] to creating an inclusive campus environment and taking transphobic behavior and rhetoric seriously. Commending the work of the GRAC, SCEE and student leaders in their efforts to provide support, resources, advocacy, the statement provides a list of demands for Willamette for additional resources and support. The demands include an increase in gender neutral bathrooms, increased funding for organizations such as the GRAC, encouraging the celebration of transgender joy, providing spaces for transgender students to raise concerns and for critiques of instituitional transphobia to be heeded, create more spaces on campus for transgender students, increase advertising for the resources available and more.

Senator Ainsley Moench (‘24), who contributed to the statement, started off discussion saying she was super in favor of the statement, personally knowing a trans student who feels unsafe on campus. Senator Inéz Nieves (‘24), who also contributed and reached out to organizations and people such as Binders4Bearcats, the student on the Trans Advocacy Committee, Queer and Trans People of Color, the Trans Awareness Week Planning Committee and more, spoke next to provide information on the feedback. According to Nieves, the feedback they got was that while other students are supportive, the university and administration are not explicit enough in their support, don’t advertise resources well enough and don’t listen to students when they experience transphobia. Another point of feedback was that students have had the pressure of making campus safer for themselves, rather than administration. Nieves reminded the senate about how the state grant funding the GRAC was running out at the end of the year and that it’s important the administration realizes how important the GRAC is. Nieves added that if the GRAC is underfunded, it would not only be transgender students who suffer but women and people of color as well, “This isn’t just about trans people, it will be all of us. Because when one of the vulnerable members in our community is a target, all of us are targets, so I highly encourage you to vote for the statement.” Senator Cameron Cole (‘23) was also a contributor to the statement and thanked those involved, calling it a collaborative effort.

There were no points of disagreement on the statement.

After the statement failed, Vice President Angel Park (‘22) said senators will have the option of signing their specific names onto it to send out. During the ‘good of the order’ segment, senators spoke about the failed statement. Moench expressed her grave disappointment, calling it an affront to all the trans people on campus, and said she knows it will have a greatly negative impact on the trans community. Moench also called it very disheartening that ASWU could not pass a simple statement confirming that they support transgender students on campus. Moench later added that when someone plans to vote no on a statement or bill, they should bring the concern up during discussion so it could be amended. Senator Hollis Mantle (‘25) spoke next, saying she believes she speaks for the class of 2025 when she says they are also disappointed that the statement did not pass and as a class they will always advocate. The rest of the senators from 2025 nodded at Mantle’s words. Nieves addressed those who did not vote for the statement, saying “Thank you for telling me how you really feel about us. I can’t emphasize that enough. I think that if ASWU is supposed to be here to promote equity, diversity and inclusivity in campus, you failed at that job.” Nieves, Monech and Mantle’s comments were followed by loud knocks in agreement from the rest of the senators who voted yea.

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