Trans Students, Staff, and Faculty Deserve Safety and Support

Posted April 10, 2023

The SFSU chapter of the California Faculty Association affirms and stands in full solidarity with our trans colleagues (faculty, staff) and students. We affirm the ongoing work of the Queer & Trans Resource Center (QTRC), the faculty in Sexuality Studies planning a teach-in on trans rights and liberation, and the student protesters who showed up in force on April 6 to affirm trans life on campusTrans liberation is interconnected to and necessary for all forms of liberation, and an injury to one is an injury to all.

We reject the premise, goals, and tactics of the student organizers on campus who, through their collaboration with Turning Point USA, hosted an event with the intent to vilify transgender women. The portrayal of transgender women as imposters and imagined aggressors repurposes harmful tropes used to dehumanize and inflame violence against the transgender community. The growing rise of anti-trans legislationviolence against the trans community, and transphobic presence on campus should alarm the administration. Instead, the administration’s messaging adopts misinformed definitions of freedom of speech protections and First Amendment Rights. The failure to contextualize the TPUSA-sponsored event, and corresponding flyer, as evidence of hate speech and fearmongering tactics endangers the lives of trans faculty, staff, and students. Trans students have the right to thrive in public space. As Robert Jones Jr. said, “We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

The administration’s April 3 email to students, faculty and staff, entitled “Events on campus. Freedom of Expression. Time, Place, and Manner”, actively chills any trans-liberatory response to this event, by discouraging collective action and instead placing the burden on individuals to self-repair the harm caused. The university then suggests resources — mental health support at CAPS — which simply aren’t available. Why is the administration willing to commit to violent speech but not the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff?

In failing to specifically name the anti-trans event, the purpose of the email is ambiguous. While we understand the strategy of de-platforming hate speech by ignoring it, we follow transformative justice principles of centering the person/people experiencing harm, and starting from the more urgent task of responding to their needs. In this moment, trans students, faculty and staff need to know their health and safety is the administration’s priority. 

Just a month ago, we contested that the university misapplies ‘academic freedom’ to disproportionately support those causing or promoting harm. The April 3 email asserts that this event obligates the administration to “provide… a forum for all ideas, perspectives, and viewpoints to be stated, questioned, tested, and clarified.” But “questioning, testing, or clarifying” someone’s existence is not free expression; it is violence. A threat to one’s personhood is always a threat of violence. Further, it follows dangerous precedents of eugenicist and fascist ideologies. Universities were complicit in the blossoming of eugenics and fascism during the 20th century, in both California and specifically in the CSU system. We must actively and vehemently object to any creeping return of these ideas, in order to ensure this does not happen again. In their book Beyond the Gender Binarygender non-conforming author, poet, and public speaker Alok Vaid-Menon reminds us that “the best way to eliminate a group is to demonize them, such that their disappearance is seen as an act of justice, not discrimination.” 

The April 3 email includes instructions that vary from mindfulness (“Ground yourself with calming activities (e.g., focused breathing)”), to empty moralizing (“Take the high road”) to downright re-traumatizing (“Don’t take anything personally”). Although the list of body cues that one is triggered is a helpful resource, it ironically highlights that such events have the power to elicit the body’s survival fear response. The administration’s encouragement to consult CAPS is preposterous, when the department is actively underfunded and under-resourced. For years we have fallen short of the mandated counselor-to-student ratio, and for the past year the SAFE place (our only crisis service for students who have experienced sexual or domestic violence, which trans people are more likely to experience) has been unstaffed. This is an embarrassing misuse of funds, which are historically allotted to administrative bloat and increasing the campus police force, neither of which actively support student health or well-being.

Finally, we assert that the university administration has the same right to freedom of expression that it so desires to protect for these anti-trans activists. The administration could have just as easily written to affirm freedom of expression and also exercise its own in service of trans students, staff and faculty. Instead, the email puts this burden of violence (again, a threat to one’s personhood is always a threat of violence) on students as individuals. In doing so they absolve themselves of responsibility to protect, support and affirm all students’ health and safety, and in this moment, the health and safety of those explicitly targeted – trans students, staff and faculty. 

In fact, here is a short list of ways that the administration could affirmatively support trans members of our campus community — in this moment and in an ongoing way:

  1. Provide emergency extra funds and resources (staff, space, food) to the QTRC, who created a beautiful counter-event on the same day at the same time to affirm queer and trans students. The university could bolster, support, and promote this work rather than remaining ‘neutral’.
  2. Actively prevent anti-trans harassment on campus, such as the event promotion tactics that TPUSA students engaged in for their April 6 event, by specifically flyering the hallways adjacent to Sexuality Studies faculty offices.
  3. Fund CAPSMeet the mandated 1:1000 counselor-to-student ratio. We have made this demand before and will continue to do so. We have a mental health crisis on campus, and a labor crisis in CAPS — counselors are overworked and underpaid, and the administration deliberately misconstrues the staffing reality. You cannot encourage students in crisis to go to CAPS when getting an appointment takes weeks, and when the singular crisis counselor position (the SAFE place) is unstaffed. 
  4. Defund campus police in order to fund CAPS. University police (UPD), funded by student tuition, escorted the TPUSA speaker on April 6. This is yet another example showing that, along with their racist, anti-Black, and anti-worker roots, police have a long history of hyperpolicing queer people and disproportionately enacting violence against trans people. A budget is a reflection of ethics. Budget crisis or not, we can redirect funding from the University Police Department to CAPS. Did the 2020 uprising teach us nothing? Communities need care, not cops. 
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