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Trans Advocacy Townhall: Students Raise Concerns, Dean Flees

Adam Doyle

Contributing Writer

Flyer advertising the ASWU Trans-Advocacy Town Hall. Art courtesy of Inéz Nieves.

Ford 102 was packed on Tuesday, Dec. 7, as the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) Trans Advocacy Committee convened a town hall to address pertinent concerns of the student body. Moderator and ASWU Senator Inéz Nieves (‘24) described the meeting as a chance to ensure that “all the silenced, neglected and unheard voices of transgender students at this university are heard loud and clear by our administration and our student government.” A varied panel was present, consisting of ASWU senators and representatives of the University, to field questions from those gathered. Dean of Students for Community Care and Inclusion Abbas Hill was on the panel but did not speak.

After introductions, the floor was turned over to the public for comment. The first speaker of the night, who identified themselves as C.J., lambasted the college’s handling of the [Holidays in Hudson] bathroom situation. They referred to the administration’s actions as “starkly telling about how the University truly feels about their trans students.” Panel member and Vice President of Student Affairs Lisa Landreman responded, reminding the congregation that there exists a trans advocacy committee at the university level, and referring to the circumstance as an “architectural challenge.”

Immediately following this, Dean of The College of Arts and Sciences Ruth Feingold spoke, stressing the importance of hospitality and deference to guests of the institution. Referring to her previous memorandum on this topic sent out to music students, she suggested the administration’s actions were a “make-shift solution” to address the different needs of the non-student and overwhelmingly elderly population in attendance for the event; this declaration was met with derision from the audience.

Andrea Hugmeyer, director of the Gender Resource and Advocacy Center, who was not on the panel but in the audience, apologized to students for the college’s actions. Hugmeyer opined that the return to campus had invited new challenges, such as the events of the past week, and had introduced issues that the campus was not accustomed to dealing with, before apologizing again. Landreman offered that gendered restrooms may be necessary to provide facilities for persons of particular religious conviction and survivors of sexual abuse or assault, before stating that there were “something like four different solutions” being considered. A student identified as Amy shot back that the University was placing the needs of visitors over tuition-paying members of the school community. Landreman rejoined that “The value of hospitality is extremely important… part of hospitality is making sure that your guests feel comfortable.”

Landreman went on to expound on the logistical difficulties of handling intermissions with such a large audience; a student identifying as Becca replied that there was no intermission. Landreman demurred, stating that they had only received the schedule of the concert as it began. Becca retorted that the program had been put together far in advance, adding “I made it.”

Back and forth between the panel, primarily Landreman, and the students present continued for some time. Of particular interest was the lack of trans student representation in the decision-making process. One audience member, self-identifying as Alanna, criticized the language used by University delegates, arguing that the framing of the discussion as “the problem” was self-centered. She went on to compare the administration to the characters of the FX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The members of ASWU that had voted down certain bills were criticized for their lack of support for trans issues. At one point, the process for impeaching members of the senate was discussed. Details on this process can be found in Section IV of this [document.]

Towards the end of the meeting, an unidentified student asked that trans representatives to the college be compensated for their time. Landreman suggested that the position should remain voluntary. Another student, who also declined identification, said that the University was looking for volunteer “trans explainers.” The student expressed the opinion that “[student] labor needs to be compensated, it’s that simple.” A visibly irate Feingold said, “I’m not being paid for my time to be here,” before leaving the room. The student responded, “Farewell, good riddance.” Feingold’s exit was met with audible disbelief from audience members. The room descended into disorder before Nieves called for quiet.

Moderator Nieves closed the meeting by reminding the audience that Thursday, Dec. 9, would be the last senate meeting of the year. One of the unidentified students who spoke earlier added that Feingold makes over $180,000 a year as the meeting dispersed.

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