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TALK THAT WALK: THOUGHTS ON SPELMAN’S TASK FORCE FOR TRANSGENDER STUDENTS


This past week it was announced that my Alma Mater, Spelman College, would begin a task force regarding the admittance and enrollment of transgender students. If Spelman would approve this initiative, it would be historic.

Now, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I have seen sisters (and brothers) throw the bible around, regarding sin, to justify the fact that this is not helpful for the institution.

As a pastor, I have this question: Since when does personal sin deny you the right to an education? I have learned, from Jesus, that some comments will require me to keep writing on the ground.**

But, I digress.

As it relates solely to the question of admitting transgender students:

There are Spelman graduates who are transgender. That is a fact. Their voices will be instrumental in this task force. Some grads gender bend. Their voices are of value. It would be helpful to have a variety of voices at the table to seriously consider where the college is headed.

The notion of a task force to engage the conversation of enrolling transgender women as students are incredible. As the leading institution for black women, Spelman is in a unique position as it relates to black trans women. The decision ultimately rests with the college, but there is no harm in Spelman taking the initiative to have the conversation with a task force.  It’s just that: a discussion for further consideration.

One stance that is presented is this: Spelman is a women’s college. Spelman is not listed as a “female” college.  With this in mind, if someone born male is self-identifying as a woman, living life as a woman, which is different from being female (as that relates to genitalia and sexual reproduction), then yes, he (who is she) should have the right to attend Spelman as a degree student (and vice versa).

While Spelman is traditionally a women’s college, does that mean it is exclusively a women’s college? Is it solely a black college? These are questions for consideration as the institution engages this process.

There are men cross-registering as students, so why not? There are same gender loving women, so why not? Some women are considering transitioning and/or will transition upon graduation but are too afraid to say it because of the pressures of society. One could even go so far to say that there maybe transgender students, even now, who may not have come out as transgender to the broader community.

If our institutions of higher learning are going to progress than we need to move forward with this initiative.

Another argument could be the safety and comfort of the other students. Ok, but wouldn’t Spelman, one of the safest (although not perfect) college campuses take that into serious consideration? What about the physical safety and emotional well being of the transgender student? She needs to feel safe as well.

I predict that the conversation will come down to housing. This needs to be approached with sensitivity, and I think that the input will need to come from current students and recent graduates. We need the voices of the women who have a desire to innovate and reshape their living community potentially.

Now, if someone were to ask me: “Well, Porsha, what if someone told you that your roommate is transgender? Would you want to live with her?”

Honestly, I would have said no. It would not be because of her being transgender, but because I didn’t want a roommate.

I still wouldn’t want a roommate, nor am I sold on the college roommate experience. Period. And somehow, I lived four years on campus, and I didn’t have to share a room with any of my sisters while at Spelman. Regarding communal bathrooms, I’ve always been shy and body conscious. I dodged everyone in the bathroom and engaged with my dorm mates as little as possible when inside. At this point, those questions no longer apply to me but do apply to current students. Hence the need for their voices. They should be the ones discussing comforts regarding housing and student residency.

Although there are persons who support this endeavor, I’m not sure if the broader Spelman community as a whole is genuinely ready for the full enrollment of Transgender students. This is why: 1. Alumnae. Spelman has a rich history and tradition of producing some of the most excellent black women in the world. Spelman also has high regard for the alumnae input. As I have had some dialogue with recent grads (as in the last decade) and Alumnae as seasoned as the late eighties, the overall consensus was not in favor. While there were spurts of sisters who were in favor, the overall scope was conservative. 2. The black race. Y'all. Let’s be honest. As a race, we just aren’t there yet. We still struggle with embracing our same gender loving family members. Gender and sexuality are two different things, yet as a culture, we have yet to understand the distinction as general knowledge.

However, this further underscores the need for the conversation. We ought to be able to have open discussions on sexuality, without members feeling like it’s the end of the world. When we can embrace sexuality, then, I think, we can embrace gender. As a race, we have to work on our collective wholeness so that we might be able to embrace the wholeness of individual people.

I wholeheartedly commend Spelman for engaging the conversation, as a women’s college. It is bold, and it is brave. We are rich in history, and we hold tight to tradition; however, we do not accept the world solely for what it is, instead, we find ways to innovate and improve. It is this reason why I am proud to call myself a Spelman Woman. We are trailblazers and curators of our destiny; also, we shape society, and we create shifts in the culture.

I will be following this conversation in the upcoming year. If asked for my input, I would be interested in hearing all sides, including the voice of the board. Also, I am always in favor of what is best for the entire college, which includes the students, faculty, administration, and alumnae.

** Personally, I don’t  appreciate the selective sin call outs. Besides, I am not here to discuss, debate, or suggest that being transgender is or is not a sin. I am not taking a stance in this post. To suggest that something is sinful is an illegitimate response to the denial of a person’s right to higher education.  Comments referring to a sin debate will not receive a response. 


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