As new policy is drafted, transgender students speak out about their experience

Transgender students Bryson Santiago (left) and DeLuka Alexander pose for a picture. They are appreciative of Norwich’s efforts to draft policies for transgender students and say they feel comfortable going to school as members of the Corps of Cadets.

Transgender students Bryson Santiago (left) and DeLuka Alexander pose for a picture. They are appreciative of Norwich’s efforts to draft policies for transgender students and say they feel comfortable going to school as members of the Corps of Cadets.

Norwich University is required by law to honor requests from students for accommodations consistent with their gender identities, and Norwich’s president is affirming the school’s responsibilities.

“The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights states that recipients of Title IX federal funding cannot exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex of any person in its educational programs or activities,” said Norwich President Richard Schneider in a memorandum Oct. 24. “Funding recipients must treat a person’s gender identity as the person’s sex.”

The president said that Norwich University does not currently have a policy, but university officials are drafting one that allows transgender students to access housing options consistent with their gender identity.

Furthermore, Schneider said that the university may not require transgender students to stay in single occupancy accommodations or to disclose personal information that is not required of any other students.

Cadets and students alike have questioned how this new policy will be implemented and what accommodations would need to be made, but transgender students at Norwich are excited to see what becomes of this policy.

“My goal is to try to get a gender neutral bathroom in every (building),” said Bryson Santiago, 18, a rook in the Corps of Cadets and a health sciences major from The Bronx, N.Y., who is a transgender male. “It is totally necessary, because there are other transgender males in the school who say that using the female (bathroom) is awkward for them.”

Santiago said that sometimes transgender males will avoid using the bathroom so they do not feel as awkward. He believes that some policy changes have to take effect sooner rather than later.

“I don’t feel comfortable in the ladies room at all,” agreed deLuka Michael Gonzalez Alexander, 20, a junior in the Corps of Cadets who is majoring in English and criminal justice. He is a transgender male from Cincinnati, Ohio. “I feel 100 percent awkward, I perceive myself as a male, and I forget that other people do not perceive me the same way.”

“If it is not expected for me to fit into some category, I feel like there should be some common ground,” said Alexander.

He added that even going into the men’s room causes him to feel uncomfortable because he is afraid someone would do something out of hate.

The process of finding a policy that works at the university will be a difficult one, but students like Alexander and Santiago feel it is not as difficult as the change that have been through. Both of the students knew from a young age that they did not feel comfortable in their bodies. They did not know what being transgender was back then, but both had a sudden realization that made them feel that this transition was the correct choice.

“When playing with dolls, I was always Ken instead of Barbie, because I didn’t know how to play with Barbie. I always wore boy’s clothes, and I was thought to be a lesbian,” said Santiago.

When he was 16 he felt that the label of ‘lesbian’ was not aligned with his feelings and beliefs and found comfort in the idea of being transgender.

“I was always told I was a ‘tomboy,’” said Alexander, “It kind of fit for a while but after a certain age, gender becomes more of a big deal.”

At this moment there is no perfect solution for students in situations similar to this, but those who are transgender, for the most part, feel comfortable at the university.

“This is the most comfortable I have ever been,” said Alexander. He said that being at Norwich gave him the opportunity to be himself and let go of what others wanted him to be.

As a recruit who is in the midst of the transition, his cadre have seen positive support from his platoon and fellow recruits.

“About four weeks ago he told us that he wanted to go by ‘rook brother’ and to start using male pronouns,” said Jacob Wood, 21, a junior in the Corps of Cadets and a biology major from Weare N.H. “Sometimes we may incorrectly address him, but we always correct ourselves and move on.”

Wood added that he believes anyone should have the choice and people should do what they feel comfortable with. His only fear is for the people who do not understand and do not have the same views as he does.

The policy that is being drafted by Norwich University officials will be focused on facilitating the concerns of those students, staff, and faculty who have apprehensions.

“We are currently working on a policy for accommodations for students, staff and faculty who are transgender,” said Stephanie Drew, the Employee Relations/Equal Opportunity Officer for Norwich University. “We are going to make sure that we abide by our non-discrimination policy. This policy will be for all students, staff, and faculty and with what gender they identify with, with no further questions asked.”

President Schneider believes that “all students and employees should feel welcome and comfortable.” He understands that questions have not yet been answered but it is first the university’s responsibility to provide a safe and non-discriminatory environment for all students and employees.

He added that this policy and the implementation of the plan would reflect directly on that responsibility.

Drew added that if any students or employees have questions or concerns they should contact her via e-mail at sdrew@norwich.edu or by telephone: 802-485-2144.

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