Three students faced a Student Judicial Board (SJB) hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 4, for participation in the degendering of campus bathrooms over the past month. According to a statement written by Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, the SJB found the students responsible for removing signs from the Usdan University Center (Usdan) on Oct. 15, determining that this action constituted a property violation and sanctioning a restitution of $451 to be split between the three students. The SJB did not find the students responsible for the degendering of other bathrooms on campus.
“There has been significant campus discussion about the judicial charges faced by some students who removed gendered bathroom signs last month,” Whaley wrote.
According to a statement written by Mariama Eversley ’14 and Ross Levin ’15 and posted on youngist.org prior to the hearing, the three students faced a fine of $5,245 for the degendering of all signs on campus after being identified in Usdan with degendering materials. Two of the five students involved at the time were not referred to the SJB.
“Although other students may have been involved in ‘de-gendering’ bathrooms across campus, these three students were confronted by Usdan staff while doing so,” Whaley wrote. “[…] During the hearing, the Board received some evidence that two additional students may also have been involved, and an additional hearing will be convened to review that evidence.”
Eversley and Levin’s youngist.com statement argued that these three students were targeted for their visibility in the LGBTQ community on campus. Eversley elaborated on this claim.
“[T]hree students who were also three gender non-conforming people, they clearly were the people who were targeted and profiled,” she said. “I think another word to use is profiling. We talk about racial profiling a lot, and in a way it’s kind of like queer profiling.”
One of the three students who were sanctioned by the SJB expressed a similar sentiment.
“The ongoing thing throughout the case was that it was trans*phobic,” the student said.
According to Whaley, the decision to release the information about the outcome of the case was based on the students’ anonymity.
“Since the names of the students have not been publicized, we are able to provide an update to the campus community on the case,” Whaley wrote.
The students facing the sanctions were unaware that its outcome would be publicized.
“I was holding off on being too vocal about what the sentence was because I wanted to think about it,” the same student said. “I wanted to think about it before I said anything to anyone about it.”
According to Eversley, who waited with approximately 20 to 40 students in the North College lobby while the hearing took place, Associate Dean of Students Scott Backer was present at the hearing.
“[That] to my understanding is atypical because usually you only have the students on the SJB board in the room at the same time,” Eversley said. “Not only was Scott Backer there, but he also intervened several times in the trial, so he was an active participant in the SJB trial…. Obviously it’s difficult to react and defend yourself in that situation where there just are no rules, because Scott Backer can make up the rules on the spot.”
Due to the short span of time between the divulgence of this information and the publication of this article, Backer could not be reached in time for comment. However, Whaley explained that because Backer is an administrative advisor to the SJB, he is permitted to attend any hearing: the Code of Non-Academic Conduct stipulates that advisors have no vote, but a full voice. According to Whaley, given the large number of students hoping to act as witnesses, the SJB members required Backer’s assistance in managing the hearing.
Whaley clarified the role of the SJB in this situation.
“As part of their responsibilities, the SJB is responsible for determining whether students violate the provisions of Wesleyan’s Code of Non-Academic Conduct,” Whaley wrote. “The Board does not strive to determine the legitimacy of a protest/action, only whether such protest/action is done in a manner that violates our community’s standards.”
The action surrounding the degendering of bathrooms and the SJB hearing led alumni to circulate a petition calling for the University not to punish the students accused of being involved. As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had been signed by over three hundred alumni.
“We demand that the Administration ensure that trans students feel safe on campus, especially when engaged in an act as basic and essential as using the bathroom,” the petition reads. “We ask that you stop the SJB process that singles out a handful of students for an action that was taken by many as a means of survival. Instead of blaming the victims of oppression, Wesleyan must engage in a dialogue about cisgender privilege and begin to do the painful but necessary work of creating a campus that is just and safe for all.”
Pointing to this support from alumni and to outreach from other activists in response to the youngist.com statement, Eversley noted the importance of the matter.
“[T]rans*-activism and gender activism [aren’t] going to end here, and because of the actions of people who decided to degender, this action is going to be made larger and has already reached other people,” she said. “…[H]opefully this is the moment where activism can go beyond just Wesleyan.”
Levin similarly noted that the hearing and sanctions by no means mark the end of trans* activism on campus.
“The trial is unfortunate in the sense of its trans*phobic persecution, but fortunate in the sense that it’s been able to be a rallying point,” he said. “In any case, it’s one step in this longer process, and I think that all of this action and attention has really put the administration in a position where they have to start acting on making at least more bathrooms…all-gender.”
This article was updated on Dec. 6 to reflect new information, and again on Dec. 9 to clarify the nature of the release of information regarding the outcome of the case.