Transgender, non-binary students express concern over misgendering on campus following university email

LGBTQIA+ students worry that the policies do not go far enough

Written By Levi Peacock, Staff Writer

In the last few weeks, an internal university communication has sparked a conversation among students across almost all majors about how transgender and nonbinary students are being treated on campus.

Monday, Sept. 13, an email was sent out to students and staff of Point Park University from the Office of Equity and Inclusion as a reminder of the school’s non-discrimination policies. According to the university, these policies have been in effect since 2014.

At the bottom of this email, a message regarding the proper use of pronouns and preferred names of those on campus was included, along with resources to have further training in allyship to the LGBTQIA+ community. However, some students who identify along the LGBTQIA+ spectrum are dubious about whether these measures go far enough.

Point Park senior and Acting major, Emily Harnett, who identifies as non-binary and is a second generation Queerspawn (meaning that they have gay parents and are also queer), said they are active on campus as the President of the Conservatory Theatre Club and of On Point A Cappella but that they have experienced multiple instances of discriminatory treatment on campus.

“I’ve been out as non-binary for two years now, and I still walk into spaces with people that I’ve known for a long time and have worked really closely with, and still get misgendered,” Harnett said. “With professors, I’ve noticed that, when they mis-pronoun me, it becomes about them and they try to prove that they’re not transphobic. There’s this constant explanation from professors, and then there’s no change with it.”

One anonymous sophomore student, who will be referred to here as John Smith, shared Harnett’s concerns. He spoke to The Globe on the condition of anonymity due to the potential risk to his safety on campus.

“I’ve, in general, had a lot of professors misgendering me in the past year,” he said. “But this week, I had a professor in class ask us to specifically write down our pronouns, since it was not originally asked in our first class together, and then proceeded to blatantly misgender me the same day while CCing me in an email to another classmate. This, in particular, really stood out more than anything else that has happened.”

Along with this, Smith added that he has reportedly had several professors who never asked students for their pronouns and that these professors tend to ignore the pronouns in email signatures as well. He then added that he feels it is difficult to correct professors on pronouns in front of classmates out of concern for how they will react.

The university, however, said that it takes certain measures with faculty and staff about issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ community.

“Point Park University is deeply committed to providing a learning and working environment that is respectful and inclusive of all members of its community,” Lou Corsaro, Managing Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Point Park, said. “To that end, the University provides its faculty and staff with a wide variety of training opportunities, including on topics related to the LGBTQ+ community. In addition, all staff and faculty members undergo training on how to identify and mitigate against implicit bias, including microaggressions.”

Both students interviewed stated how exhausting it is to have to constantly explain themselves regarding their gender identities, especially when continuously correcting those in authority.

“I think it’s important when someone is misgendered that there’s some space for them if they need to take a breather, because it gets really tiring,” Harnett said.

Some resources are provided to students and staff on allyship to the LGBTQIA+ community. At the bottom of the email sent out on Sept. 13, under the title “Misgendering, Pronoun Misuse, and Deadnaming,” it was stated that “any individual who has been informed of another person’s gender identity, pronouns, or chosen name is expected to respect that individual.” It added that administrative action would be taken if a complaint were to be filed by an affected individual on the basis of harmful misgendering and/or repeated offenses.

In addition, there was a guide attached by the title of “Pronouns and Inclusive Language Guide,” which was said to have been created by a former student. After this, there was an optional training titled “LGBTQ+ Allyship and You” that anyone can access for $5 by Oct. 25, 2021, which has caused some concerns due to the associated cost and absence of any requirement.

“First, more than anything, it should be free,” Smith said. “I’m sure there are people who would consider taking the training, and then change their mind when they realize it costs money. I also think, at least for staff and educators, it needs to be mandatory.”

Harnett wasn’t even aware that the Sep. 13 email existed and, having taken the mandatory SafeColleges training, they are skeptical of how helpful the optional training really is.

“I had to take the SafeColleges training this summer,” they said. “And I think it’s really outdated….I know that, for adjuncts, the department chairs can only require them to take one training course, and I think that’s something that legally needs to be totally worked on. I believe there’s always learning to be had and unlearning, and that limit on training does a disservice to students—like, you can’t learn safely if you’re worried about your life in a classroom.”

There were many ideas mentioned on how students feel that it would be best to solve this situation, but Harnett voiced support for some outside assistance at Point Park.

“I think it would be awesome to have a grassroots organization come in and run an on-the-ground training for faculty,” Harnett said. “This online training doesn’t really encompass a lot, and, again, I feel is very outdated. I think it’s important, as students, that we don’t have an obligation to answer questions from our professors about our gender, so I think it would be nice if they had someone to ask questions to, because asking questions is an important part of learning.”

Both Smith and Harnett also agreed that while it is important for faculty to be sure to be more inclusive, the student body also has some responsibility to take on the subject.

“It takes the student body, too,” Harnett said. “The students reprimanding the professors are also the ones that are misgendering me, and are also the ones that are actively calling me a woman or a girl. It’s like—you’re no better if you do that.”

“If the professor—or whoever has the most power in the room—is informed and respectful,” Smith said. “There is a lot more of a chance that students will follow that example.”

Both students said they feel that there is more to be done regarding inclusivity of LGBTQIA+ identities and have both stated their hope that, as time goes on, the campus will work to become a safer space for all identities.

“The University strongly encourages any student who feels they’ve been mistreated in some way to file a report with the Office of Equity & Inclusion,” Corsaro said.

The Office of Equity and Inclusion declined to independently comment.