Originally published as the staff editorial for the DoG Street Journal's October 2010 magazine edition, this editorial is being republished online in response to a recent staff editorial by The Virginia Informer.
We also hope, with tomorrow marking the twelfth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, that this editorial can encourage a sustained, thoughtful and informed dialogue about the need for full legal protection for all members of our campus community regardless of their actual or perceived gender identity and expression.
In a meeting [in September] with leaders from the Student Assembly and the College's many honor and conduct councils, Rector of the Board of Visitors Henry Wolf ('64, J.D. '66) fielded questions with the goal of bringing students' concerns before the Board of Visitors in preparation for its first meeting of the academic year.
Students in attendance probed the Rector on topics as wide-ranging as general education requirements, student rights and town-gown relations. Wolf responded with an expectedly meek and veiled jumble of legalese, in near-constant full support of the College administration and its policies.
One moment rife with tension was an exchange between Wolf and Jessee Vasold ('11), the SA's [former] Secretary of Health and Safety. Vasold asked about gender-neutral housing, a policy issue that has been on the radar of the SA and the College administration for years. In a softly combative tone, Vasold said that the College's current on-campus housing system not only poses problems for students who identify as transgender but is also a case of sex discrimination.
Wolf said that no court has deemed such a policy in violation of non-discrimination statutes and that the College isn't breaking any law by not allowing gender-neutral housing.
Vasold continued, asking about the College's non-discrimination policy and the notable absence of gender identity and expression from the list of protected characteristics that currently includes race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, handicap and national origin.
Wolf responded dismissively. "That is not the sort of thing that any one school wants to initiate," he said. "It's not the time for that fight."
Wolf's predecessors would probably have said similar things about abolishing slavery, giving women the right to vote, eliminating Jim Crow laws, building handicap-accessible buildings on campus and countless other issues of injustice throughout the College's long history.
This isn't about politics. This isn't about what Virginia things. This isn't about some gay agenda. The College cannot cave to bigotry in determining its policies. It didn't work when we had an American Indian school. It didn't work when the College owned slaves. It didn't work when women were excluded from registering for classes until 1918.
To Henry Wolf and the Board of Visitors: as long as the civil rights of our campus community are being compromised, it is the time for that fight. As long as faculty members have 293 other schools to choose from who will protect their rights, it is the time for that fight.
This College is not a place of instilling cowardice, and, despite its murky history on the issue, it is today not a place of indoctrinating intolerance. If the administration will not support its students, it is up to us to create a groundswell of change from the grassroots.
We will not stand aside. The time to fight is right now.