Members of the college campus participated in a demonstration in support of transgender students on Wednesday Nov. 8. The rally was partially organized in response to a quiz that adjunct professor of sociology David Sorbello presented to his students on Oct. 18, which asked students to label whether a woman was “female” or “shemale.”
Political science major senior Olivia Clarke, anthropology major senior Troy Keith and biology major senior Skyler Susnick organized the sit-in to respond to Sorbello’s actions, and also to draw attention to the perceived problems with the college’s overall position toward transgender and gender nonconforming students. The organizers released a list of expectations they had for the administration going forward, also given to The Livingston County News on Tuesday Nov. 7.
“Aside from the disciplinary actions, I believe that our administration should come out, stand with our trans-students and add their voices in saying, ‘These types of slurs are not acceptable in any scenario,’” Clarke said. “Today we’re standing together showing our support for the trans-community, but this is only the beginning.”
The list of expectations calls on the administration to take six main actions to make the college a more inclusive space. The document specifically requests that the administration remove Sorbello immediately, institute mandatory sensitivity training for all personnel who come in contact with students and establish more all-gender bathrooms for students to safely and easily access. Further expectations include the creation of a more effective process for reporting bias-related incidents, the promotion of the LGBTQ+ Coordinator and Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Programs and Services from a part-time to a full-time position and the implementation of a variety of policies prioritizing transgender students, especially those concerning students who change their names or pronouns.
Beyond these measures, president of Geneseo Pride Alliance junior Daniel Kahl pointed to the outdated nature of the Statement on Diversity and Community.
“This is a school that has built its representation on focusing primarily on a message of diversity,” Kahl said. “Can we take a second to recognize that the diversity statement for this school has not been updated since 2003? That is 14 years that they have had the same diversity statement that does not differentiate between sex and gender ... That is not supporting all members of our community.”
The changes that members of the LGBTQ+ community have requested from the administration arose in part from Sorbello’s behaviors, but students have been asking for similar changes for multiple years, according to Keith.
“I was a part of Pride Alliance as a freshman and there was a trans-student who was assaulted,” Keith said. “We made demands and expectations of how the campus should change to make sure we’re protecting trans-people and none of those changes happened. Now Sorbello’s presentation happens and if we just keep silent, nothing’s going to change.”
Beyond the rally, the group plans to collaborate with Pride Alliance on a panel entitled “Trans? Fine by Me” on Thursday Nov. 9, which will focus primarily on the experiences transgender students, faculty and staff face on-campus, according to Clarke. The expectations list will be formally stated at the panel, according to Keith.
Biochemistry major senior Quinn Johanson, who attended the rally and will speak at the “Trans? Fine by Me” panel, believes the response from the administration has been insufficient.
“The administration does not want to acknowledge that trans-students like myself and others exist, but they sure are happy to take our tuition money,” Johanson said.
In addition to joining together in mutual support, the demonstration also held 23 minutes of silence—one minute for each transgender or gender nonconforming person who has been killed in 2017 thus far.
“I would just like to see more preventative action from the administration,” Susnick said. “I think these types of incidents can make it feel unsafe for transgender students, especially transfeminine students. What [Sorbello] allegedly said very much feeds into the attitudes and violence people often express toward trans-people.”u