As the foremost representatives of undergraduates to Yale’s administration, members of the Yale College Council occupy a unique position on campus. This status gives the YCC a responsibility to work on the problems that most affect university life. Unequal treatment by the University on the basis of personal characteristics — including, but not limited to, sexual orientation and gender identity — seriously damages affected students’ ability to get the most out of their time at Yale. The YCC must stand against it now.
Although the administration has paid lip service to the concerns of transgender and gender-nonconforming students, its actions over the last year have demonstrated little interest in or respect for those students’ needs. Not only does this decrease the quality of life of current transgender and gender non-conforming students, it also deters others from applying — denying us the company of classmates who would have made great contributions to Yale.
The administration showed particular disrespect for transgender and gender-nonconforming students by inviting the military’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs to return to campus in 2013. Yale College administrators are fully aware that, despite the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, all branches of the military continue to exclude transgender and gender-nonconforming people from service. They know but do not care that the ROTC programs will violate the University’s Equal Opportunity Statement.
Even after members of the Faculty Committee on ROTC met with representatives of Trans/gender Awareness Week and the LGBT Co-op last year, the administration said almost nothing about the LGBTQ community’s concerns in its final report, mentioning the meeting only in passing and misidentifying the students’ affiliations. The YCC never commented on the committee report’s failure to acknowledge that ROTC discriminates against transgender people and again failed to mention the exclusion in its own report on the program.
Health care is another pressing issue for transgender students, and Yale’s contradictory policies on gender-related health care prevent students from accessing the care they need. Yale Health has stated that gender-affirming surgeries (also known as sex-reassignment surgeries) are medically necessary for many transgender people and covers those surgeries for employees and their dependents. In spite of this affirmation, gender-affirming surgery is explicitly excluded from the student health plan — a discriminatory policy with no medical, actuarial or moral basis. Surgery is unaffordable to many students and their families, while its cost to Yale Health is insignificant. All students, not just those with access to wealth or secondary health insurance, must be able to access the surgeries they need, and the YCC should work with administrators and Yale Health to reconcile the student health plan with the employee version.
We applaud YCC’s successful campaign to expand mixed-gender housing to juniors. Unfortunately, half of all students are still banned from living with students of another gender. Perhaps the YCC’s silence on this issue stems from a belief that mixed-gender housing, like off-campus housing, is a privilege for students deemed mature.
Prohibitions on mixed-gender housing harm all students, but especially transgender students. Living with friends of another gender is no special privilege. All the reasons to expand mixed-gender housing to juniors apply to younger students as well, and the YCC must campaign to lift the ban for freshmen and sophomores.
Given all of these circumstances, the YCC candidates need to rethink their priorities. Candidates will not effectively represent the LGBTQ community — or any part of the Yale community — if they focus only on relatively trivial issues. Instead, they should commit themselves to solving the problems that affect our basic ability to get the most out of Yale.
The issues we have outlined are not the only ones that make a difference; financial aid, mental health and other concerns should be priorities as well. But questions about whether every member of the Yale community can participate equally in academic programs or even get the medical care he or she needs are undeniably more important than who comes to Spring Fling and what we can buy with a Durfee’s swipe. Candidates, please take seriously your responsibility to represent all Yalies, and spend time during and after your campaign thinking about how to best fulfill that duty.
Gabe Murchison is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hilary O’Connell is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at email@example.com.