Franklin & Marshall College continues to improve its efforts at gender inclusivity, from all-gender bathrooms now in each of the campus residence halls to an updated housing form for first-year students to help provide a safe, comfortable college experience to students who identify as trans and nonbinary.
The form now allows students to identify as either cis or transgender woman or man, nonbinary, or questioning. It includes definitions for students who may have had less exposure to such gender-issue conversations to help them understand and accept all members of the F&M community.
Students can also self-describe their gender identity on the form. Additionally, first-years may indicate their roommate gender preference from the same list, marking as many boxes as are comfortable to them.
“We are trying to be as intentional as possible and set things up so that students themselves can drive how they identify and present, and how that manifests in terms of their living situation,” said Todd DeKay, dean of Ware College House.
Students of all class years can update their gender identification at any time by contacting Nakia Page, orientation coordinator and assistant director of fraternity and sorority life.
“Some students might also be finding their way, and how they identify might change over the course of the semester or later in their college career,” said Beth Proffitt, dean of Bonchek College House.
In addition to the updated housing form, student House Advisors (HAs) underwent an updated training to welcome F&M’s newest students, especially those whose gender identities may not fall into the woman/man binary.
“The training includes sessions on inclusive language in regards to gender and sexuality,” said Chelsea Brown, Weis College House dean. “All HAs will be able to build inclusive communities within their spaces and also appropriately refer their residents to different resources.”
“Part of HA training is becoming comfortable with the vernacular and modeling what a respectful F&M student is in a conversation about gender pronouns and preferred names,” Dean of New College House Suzanna Richter said. “We have a small student body. It behooves us to get to know every individual as the person they are and the name they choose to be called.”
This summer, renovations in campus buildings were designed for more inclusiveness. Dietz Hall, which provides housing for students interested in quiet living, was outfitted with three all-gender bathrooms: private spaces including a sink, toilet and shower behind a locked door. Every residence hall is now equipped with all-gender bathrooms, which are intended to serve all students. Several academic and administrative buildings have all-gender bathrooms with a sink and toilet behind a locked door.
“Sometimes people think bathrooms are a minuscule topic, but it goes to the heart of the inclusivity issue,” said Professor Susan Dicklitch-Nelson, Department of Government chair. “If we can’t provide bathrooms for people, we are reinforcing by ineptitude this horrible oppression of them.”
“I’m hoping for the continued trajectory of equity and equality for LGBTQ+ students at F&M,” said Chelsea Reimann, director of the Alice Drum Women’s Center and coordinator for the Sexuality and Gender Alliance at F&M. “We are committed to this work and know that there is always more work to be done. Gov. Wolf just launched the first statewide LGBTQ affairs commission. The work we are doing at F&M mirrors what is happening in our state right now.”
“I want people to be educated about this sort of thing,” said junior Jaime Helm, a science, technology and society and German joint major from Lancaster, Pa. “If you’re going to have trans kids in your class, you’re going to need to know how to navigate pronouns and names. We also need more cisgender allies to help.”
“There’s a tendency to fall into the camp of criticism or progress and praise,” said Visiting Instructor of German Meagan Tripp. “I look forward to the nuanced conversations [about] what we could do better, as well as the strides we’ve made.”
The LGBTQ+ Task Force
Following an April forum on LGBTQ+ life at F&M, a new LGBTQ+ Task Force was organized to continue the campus conversation. Professor Susan Dicklitch-Nelson heads the task force, which includes Assistant Professor of English Meg Day, Associate Professor of Biology Sybil Gotsch, Associate Professor of Francophone Studies and French Nadra Hebouche, and professional staff representatives, including Chelsea Reimann, director of the Alice Drum Women’s Center and coordinator for the Sexuality and Gender Alliance.
“We want to take a climate study barometer of academics, student affairs, and alumni to determine how well F&M is doing and what we could be doing better,” Dicklitch-Nelson said.
“Students only learn well in the classroom when they’re feeling at home outside of the classroom,” said Maria Mitchell, professor of history and former chair of the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies program. “I am hopeful that the task force will result in some helpful concrete recommendations that will offer education that all of us need so the students aren’t constantly in the position of having to educate us themselves.”