An open letter to the administration of Vassar College, namely:
Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman
Dean of the College Chris Roellke
Vassar President Catharine Bond Hill
31 January 2016
The Vassar College LGBTQ Center describes its vision, in part, as one of “a campus that is fully inclusive of all identities.” Its mission claims that the Center “enhances the campus life experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students. . . .” The Women’s Center explicitly states in its values, as described on its website, that it focuses on and embraces transgender women. It is important, therefore, for the administrators and faculty members who are affiliated with the two Centers to share in their firm belief in and focus on transgender people, and particularly transgender women. As the leaders and point-persons of campus organizations whose memberships include transgender people, we have a responsibility to speak out when the Centers which supposedly exist to support transgender students fall under the control or influence of administrators or faculty members who disrespect their very existence.
The appointment of Denise A. Walen to the position of Faculty Fellow was done without student input, particularly the input of transgender students. Had such input been sought, those students would have told of the repeated misgendering and disrespect experienced in Professor Walen’s classes. These incidents were not simply the result of ignorance on Professor Walen’s part: they persisted even after her having been corrected multiple times and spoken with about them. Professor Walen has demonstrated a complete disregard of basic human respect towards trans people. She cannot foster the environment of inclusion and support for which the LGBTQ and Women’s Centers stand if she does not personally extend those things in her classes.
It is for this reason that we feel the affiliation of Professor Walen with the LGBTQ and Women’s Centers is harmful and counterproductive to their missions. We feel that Professor Walen’s presence in the Centers prevents us from conscientiously inviting transgender students into them. We have no other choice than to call for Professor Walen’s immediate replacement in this capacity. We are eager to meet with relevant administrators to discuss the selection of a replacement Faculty Fellow. However, should the administration decide that the safety and comfort of transgender students in the LGBTQ and Women’s Centers are not worth ensuring, we will have to rethink our organizations’ relationship to the Centers which we have enjoyed in years past and seriously consider disaffiliation. We cannot, in good conscience, take any other course of action.
Endorsed by the Vassar Student Association Council
Authored primarily by JD Nichols