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Confronting transphobia at Bowdoin, again

November 9, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

Last Friday, the Orient reported that transphobic language was found in a bathroom in Smith Union. While the Bias Incident Group has convened about the issue since, reaction on campus has been muted. In light of the Trump administration’s memo about defining gender as immutable and assigned at birth, this silence is deafening.

Nobody’s direct physical safety was immediately affected as a result of the graffiti on our campus. But trans people have increasingly been the target of violence across the nation. 2017 was the deadliest year on record for the transgender community in the United States with a total of 29 murders. Already in 2018, 22 trans people have been murdered. Of the 22 deaths recorded this year, 20 were people of color.

Half of current students were not on campus the last time transphobia made the news at Bowdoin, but two years ago, when the Free Flow initiative first began, someone defecated in one of the newly installed receptacles for used menstrual products in a men’s bathroom in Smith Union. This latest incident is part of a broader pattern of transphobic actions on campus, a pattern that we cannot ignore.

Campus responded to the swastika graffiti in the Hubbard Hall Stacks by loudly and publicly condemning it, promptly organizing a town hall to facilitate discussion and providing support for affected students. While there may have been more private offers of support to trans students, there has been no public outcry in response to the transphobic graffiti—not from any member of the administration, not from Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), not from the campus community at large.

We know many people on campus support trans students and their rights. Last week, we were grateful to receive a letter from members of the neuroscience program and Department of Biology decrying the Trump administration’s gender definition memo as “intellectually bankrupt, scientifically baseless, unworkable and cruel.”

But support for trans students on this campus must extend beyond the intellectual. We cannot pretend that active transphobia only exists outside of Bowdoin; we have to acknowledge its existence here and take action against it. On October 24, there were protests in Portland opposing Trump’s gender definition memo. Were you there? We weren’t, and we own that. We should have been.

Going forward, students—us included—can make better efforts to attend events centering the trans community and make noise when things like this happen on our campus. We can be present, and we can bring these issues up at BSG meetings, to our friends and to the administration.

Hopefully, there is something in the works to confront this hateful act, but we haven’t seen or heard of anything yet. To let this action pass uncontested and uncondemned would be yet another example of cisgender Bowdoin students’ pervasive apathy towards our trans peers and their concerns, which Ari Mehrberg ’20 wrote about last year. We can do better. We should do better. Our peers deserve that much of us—that little of us, honestly.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Nell Fitzgerald, Dakota Griffin, Calder McHugh, Devin McKinney and Jessica Piper. 


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