When I decided to come here, I was in the process of accepting my identity as a non-binary person. I struggled with the idea that I was not, in fact, a woman, despite knowing deep-down that I did not fit into the binary idea of gender. Being a William Smith student has made this process exponentially harder.
Every day, I feel the pressure to fit into the mold of “William Smith Woman” despite knowing that I never will. I get emails addressed to “ladies” and “William Smith women” and I feel that pressure double every time I read those words. The institutions of the Colleges aren’t set up for me and other trans students. The binary nature of Hobart and William Smith enforces the exclusion of everyone who doesn’t perfectly fit into that gender binary, whether trans and not.
The biggest hurdle that being at a coordinate college like HWS has placed in my path, however, is whether I feel safe coming out and whether it is worth it to be myself. I see the way that trans people who are out are treated and I question whether being myself is worth it. I see trans students repeatedly mis-gendered, not just by other students, but by professors and staff who either don’t know or don’t care about what it means to be trans. I know that my alienation from William Smith will be much worse if I am open about my non-binary gender and I doubt that I could ever feel safe or comfortable as a non-binary Hobart student.
HWS needs to do more to support the students alienated by the coordinate system. Ideally, the coordinate system would be abolished, but if that can’t happen just yet, important steps need to be taken for the health and safety of the students of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
First, more education needs to be given to potential students about the coordinate system. I don’t know if I would still have come if I had known more about the coordinate system, but I certainly would have been more prepared. Admissions needs to do a better job advertising the realities of the coordinate system, instead of either minimizing its importance, ignoring it completely, or touting an idealized, false version of the coordinate system. There needs to be more information given about the support systems for trans student given on tours, not just “you get to choose your college!” as my tour guide told me.
Second, all professors, staff, and administrators need to go through training about the coordinate system, its effects on students, and what it means to be trans, both here and in general. Classes need to start with everyone introducing themselves with name and pronouns. I had one professor who had us all turn in a paper with a bit about ourselves, including chosen name and pronouns. This simple step made me feel a million times more welcome in that class. The trick to asking pronouns, however is that you need to remember and use the correct ones, or at the very least correct yourself if you slip up.
In short, the coordinate system and its binary nature makes me feel unsafe, unable to by myself, and unwelcome on this campus. I know I’m not alone. There are ways to help it, but it has to start now.