We both are cisgender, straight women — our perspective on this issue is inherently limited. This op-ed was heavily researched with help from some members of the LGBTQ+ community. In no way do we intend to speak for the community, but we want to use our roles as allies to advocate alongside others.
Upon receiving the schedule for Advisor Training this past Saturday, we were excited to see that an afternoon session would be spent in Ally Training for the colleges. However, our optimism was crushed by the nature of this training, led by the Wellbeing Center: disengaging, uninformative and inappropriate, with college cheers being led while slides detailing statistics of suicide in the LGBTQ+ community were displayed. Both of us consider ourselves allies, yet we were disappointed by this training — how might someone less enthusiastic about the subject feel?
This experience speaks to a lack of LGBTQ+ inclusivity during Orientation Week. When advisors are not properly equipped during training to support students coming to terms with their identities, we are doing students an injustice before O-Week even starts.
Consider the experience of students whose genders don’t match their biological sex. It is uncomfortable, to say the least, to be addressed by incorrect pronouns during your first week at Rice. Some colleges have space on their new roommate forms to “provide any additional information,” but this puts the burden on the student to use that space to justify their gender identity. It is included almost as an afterthought, akin to a space to indicate sleeping preferences. And this can be easily missed if people don’t read roommate forms closely.
Allies are people of privilege who seek to understand the struggles of those in marginalized groups to advocate alongside them; no movement would progress if the only people fighting were those in an affected community. Gender identity is an issue that demands our attention: According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 50 percent of trans* people in the U.S. have attempted suicide in their lifetimes. Being misgendered has been described by a Rice student who wished to remain unnamed as “a physical feeling not unlike … the whole ‘pit in your stomach’ situation … I need to distract myself from thinking about it or else the rest of my day is ruined.” As individuals tasked with welcoming students to their new homes, we must do more to support trans students at Rice.
We can start by normalizing the idea that people use different pronouns than we might expect — this could be introduced and explained in Ally Training. During initial introductions as an O-Week group, for example, advisors can begin introducing themselves with pronouns: “My name is Uma, I’m from Baker College, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.” By fostering this thoughtful environment as soon as new students arrive, we communicate to them that we never assume anyone’s gender identity. However, we must also ensure that students do not feel forced to either lie or come out. If only some advisors express their pronouns but not all, we establish that this is indeed optional. If a new student does feel comfortable enough to express their pronouns, they can at their discretion. Most importantly, this initiative removes the burden from the new student to justify their identity.
Changing our language may be difficult at first. But we pride ourselves on our culture of care; this means we need to be active about supporting and caring for all of our students. If Rice truly wants to cultivate diversity in our community, we need to begin embracing diversity in more tangible, actionable ways.