When the Georgia Voice asked Daniel Schwendinger why he left Agnes Scott College after his freshman year, he said it was because he did not feel included as a transgender man.
Although Princeton Review listed Agnes Scott among its top ten most LGBTQ-friendly colleges in 2017, students say the school has not always made members of the trans community feel welcome. Students spoke about the difficulty of obtaining transgender housing accommodations and the complete absence of trans-feminine people from the college.
The Agnes Scott 2018-2019 student handbook also frequently includes statements referring collectively to students by female pronouns and as “women.” While this is unsurprising from a women’s college, it ignores and excludes trans-masculine Scotties like Daniel.
In order to find out what Agnes Scott College is doing to become more inclusive of transgender students, the Georgia Voice contacted Dr. Amy Lovell, the most senior faculty member of the Gay Johnson McDougall Center for Global Diversity and Inclusion. She spoke extensively about the Center’s work improving accommodations for transgender students in the classroom and on field trips, as well as expanding gender-neutral bathroom access. “I work directly with transgender students and the college’s IT department to implement a new policy that makes sure transgender students are consistently referred to by the correct name and pronouns, even when they have a different legal name,” she said.
Colleges throughout the country use computer software to organize and access student information. Frequently, these computer programs are designed to automatically refer to students by their legal name. This creates a challenge for transgender students who may not use their legal name because it misrepresents their gender. The process for acquiring a legal name change, however, can be prohibitively difficult, especially for out-of-state and international students.
Dr. Lovell also spoke about the Center’s work educating professors and student leaders about how to be accommodating of transgender students in the classroom and on field trips. “These efforts have been hurt by the recent resignation of the campus coordinator for inclusion and diversity, Tiffany Del Valle,” said Dr. Lovell. “She held her position for only one year. In addition, the Center also has a vacant position for an LGBTQ fellow.
While the Center’s work is clearly making Agnes Scott more hospitable to transgender students, despite setbacks, it does not extend to housing accommodations, which are in a state of disarray.
Tu Phung is a transgender man and rising senior at Agnes Scott College. For his first two years on campus, Tu had to share a dorm room with a cisgender woman for a roommate. This made him deeply uncomfortable, so as a freshman he began looking for ways to get a single room. “I looked up every policy and guideline, and there was nothing about accommodations for transgender students,” said Phung.
He tried to raise his concerns about housing with the student government but says nothing really got answered. Eventually, he spoke with the Associate Dean and Resident Life about his situation, but still, nothing happened. Finally, he contacted the Office of Accessible Education, which was able to help him, but they had no experience working with transgender students and were confused about how to approach Tu’s request for housing accommodations. “They didn’t do anything to help me at first when I raised my concern because they didn’t know how to categorize my situation,” he said.
The Office of Accessible Education is designed to collaborate “with students, faculty, and staff to help create an inclusive educational environment for students with disabilities,” according to the Agnes Scott website. In order to fit Tu’s case into the system the office uses for granting accommodations, it had to categorize him being transgender as a mental health condition that resulted in a disability. To that end, Phung had to send the office a letter from a physician diagnosing him with the condition of “gender dysphoria,” or discomfort with the gender he was assigned at birth.
The term gender dysphoria has increasingly become controversial in some parts of the transgender community because it can imply that being transgender is a mental health issue. After Phung sent the letter to the Office of Accessible Education and completed his housing accommodations application, it took another two weeks for the college to grant him a single dorm room for the upcoming academic year.
“I’m the only transgender man on campus with housing accommodations,” said Phung. “Other transgender men usually room with their romantic partners in order to avoid uncomfortable situations like the one I was in.” His experience reveals a substantial gap in the accommodations policy of Agnes Scott, which he says will have to be solved in order for the college to live up to its goal of inclusivity.
Until then, other transgender male students like Daniel Schwendinger may continue to look for opportunities to transfer to co-educational institutions where options for accommodations for the LGBTQ community are endless.
The Georgia Voice contacted the Agnes Scott Admission Office for comment on whether Agnes Scott is admitting or seeking to admit transgender women. The Admission Office chose not to comment.