For many students, entrance into Yale unlocks four of the most formative years of their lives. Grueling problem sets and papers on Kant hone intellectual prowess while long-lasting friendships amid a hyper-stressful environment build personal integrity. Because the University charges an outrageous amount for us to experience these formative years, it has a tremendous responsibility to make sure that each student is given the necessary support to optimize their time spent at this institution.
If Yale appreciates its student body and strives to be a bastion of progressive thinking, the administration must channel a sufficient amount of resources and faculty support to improving the lives of transgender students — students who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Such support would give a voice to a marginalized community and enhance its overall well-being, but also greatly enriches the moral fiber of Yale’s walls. Yale’s institutional character is defined by how far it will go to help struggling communities, not by how many new hubs of student life it builds from millions of donor dollars.
As a transgender man who is now Isaac instead of Isabel, I know that the greatest obstacle the transgender community faces is an intense societal stigma surrounding gender variance. It’s the kind of stigma that drives a fellow student in section to poke fun of Caitlyn Jenner or silently ridicule the high pitch of a professor’s voice. Discrimination, even in low doses, can tear at a student’s psyche and undermine their mental well-being. At its deadliest, this stigma drives a 41 percent rate of attempted suicide among transgender respondents nationwide. The average life expectancy for black transgender women, who face the double stigmas of transmisogyny and racism, is 35.
In light of this harsh reality, I challenge the administration to take these practical steps as a starting point to improve Yale’s transgender climate:
First, email all professors about the meaning of preferred pronouns and their relation to transgender identity. Likewise, email all transgender students with a written template on how to contact professors about preferred pronouns.
Second, incorporate the LGBTQ Office into the freshman cultural tour, with relevant pamphlets and resources available for interested freshman students.
Third, expand the Yale course catalog to offer more than one WGGS class on transgender issues, and temporarily replace established faculty, such as Greta LaFleur, when they go on leave. Incorporate transgender issues into coursework across disciplines, ensuring that students outside of WGSS are given the opportunity to engage with transgender scholarship. Also, require students to take at least one class on minority culture — racial, sexual, gender or socioeconomic — within their Yale careers.
Fourth, Yale should strictly abide by its own non-discrimination policy. The ROTC program at Yale excludes transgender students, which blatantly violates that policy. The administration should officially recognize this injustice.
Fifth, expand Yale College’s Peer Liaison Program to offer mentors for all classes, not just freshmen, and ensure that transgender and gender-variant students are proportionately represented among the PL corps. This issue is especially salient for transgender students given that they are substantially less likely to be “out” as freshmen, and therefore less likely to benefit from trans-related PL resources. Transgender students have few role models to look up to; face-to-face, experience-based guidance can be life changing.
Sixth, install gender neutral bathrooms where they’re lacking and develop a campuswide map indicating the various locations of these bathrooms.
Finally, Yale should invest in a centralized resource center by creating an online or paper compilation of resources for transgender students, something akin to what the Bluebook is for Yale classes. Make this mandatory reading for residential college faculty and readily available to students.
These steps mark the beginning of a long-term endeavor to create a celebratory transgender climate that will feature greater initiatives such as mixed-gender housing for freshmen and transgender training at Yale Mental Health. The administration has no excuse to ignore these requests. After all, Yale rightfully instituted one of the nation’s best college transgender health plans that makes a physical transition feasible for a little over $2,000 per year. If the administration is capable of change at that magnitude, it surely can enact the above policies within months.
At the end of the day, however, the best source for positive change in the transgender student population is the personal interaction that fosters respect for transgender students. Yale’s exceptional residential college system also encourages acceptance of transgender identities within more tight-knit communities. I lovingly call my residential college, Timothy Dwight, a “gated incubator of the soul” for good reason: It’s because small gestures in the form of my correct name and preferred pronoun authenticate my identity, which is oftentimes difficult to solidify alone.
I’m proud to be on the forefront of historic social change and look forward to collaborating with the administration to enact this transgender call to action.
Isaac Amend is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at email@example.com .