Transgender Identity SymbolOn an average day, most students don’t have to worry about which bathroom to use. Most students have been using the same “male” or “female” bathrooms their entire life and don’t think twice before selecting which restroom to walk into.

For transgender students, however, this basic decision can be one of the most stressful of their day.

The National Center for Transgender Equality defines the word transgender as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth, including but not limited to transsexuals, cross dressers, androgynous people, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming people.”

For students who fall under the transgender umbrella, expressing their identity can complicate an otherwise normal college life.

On a college campus like UW-Whitewater, which prides itself on diversity and acceptance, including individuals of all gender identities is a top priority.

Identity acceptance

Dr. Cindy Konrad, director of the P.B. Poorman Pride Resource Center and the Warhawk Connection Center, works with GLBT students on a daily basis and is familiar with the issues transgender students face at college.

“There’s problems on a lot of different levels. One of the biggest sets of problems is around the structure of the university not fitting with folks who don’t fit neatly into male or female or man and woman categories,” Konrad said.

Konrad said these problems range from student housing regulations and available gender-neutral bathroom facilities to the paperwork students fill out when they apply to a university.

Many transgender students elect to use a chosen name instead of their legal name. They also may prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns or pronouns other than the he/him/his or she/her/hers combinations many see as standard. Since most forms don’t give an option for a preferred name or preferred personal pronouns, transgender students face the challenge of others assuming incorrectly about their identities.

While there are ways to circumvent these problems, Konrad said many students aren’t ready to take the steps needed to be legally recognized as the gender they identify with.

“Our admission system and registrar system, you get input with a name and a gender, and it’s really hard to change those things,” Konrad said. “You can change them pretty easily if you have a legal name change, but a lot of students aren’t ready to legally change their name yet either because that’s a really hard conversation to have with family, or they don’t have the means or knowledge to go through the process of doing it, or they’re not sure.”

Because of this, she said it is easy for a student who has made the transition to the gender they identify with to be called their legal name instead of their chosen name by professors during roll call or in other situations where they are identified by their legal paperwork. This can cause them to be outed inadvertently.

Senior Rachel Nepper is a genderqueer student at UW-Whitewater. They said gender identity means something different to everyone.

“For me, part of it is I don’t identify with a gender because I realize that gender is a socially constructed thing, and I have aspects of both of the Western genders. I don’t really fit with either, but I’m in both at the same time,” Nepper said.

While they think UW-Whitewater is slowly improving its inclusivity in other areas, Nepper believes the paperwork system the campus uses needs to change.

“Right now, the way that Whitewater is [with paperwork] is that you have to use your legal name. So if someone is transitioning, then if they go to the health center, they will be called their legal name instead of their actual name, and they’ll be outed in the waiting room,” Nepper said.

An additional hurdle faced by transgender students is harassment by other members of the campus community.

Konrad said LGBT students at UW-Whitewater face low-level comments and other forms of harassment on a regular basis. While many may assume this behavior comes only from other students, Konrad said faculty and staff are sometimes guilty of harassment as well.

This fall was sophomore Syrenne Mcnulty’s first semester at UW-Whitewater. As a transgender student, she had some concerns before she moved to campus.

“Because this is my first semester, there was a bit of worry about roommates and how that was going to work. I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a room with a bunch of men, and I assumed that if I were in a room with a bunch of women, since I’m pre-op, then they wouldn’t feel comfortable,” Mcnulty said.

She said the university worked with her to quickly find a solution that made everyone happy: instead of sharing a dorm room with another student, Mcnulty lives in a room on her own.

Although she said she was very pleased with the university’s quick accommodation and willingness to work with her, Mcnulty said she has still experienced some isolated negative encounters with other students in her residence hall in spite of an otherwise positive experience.

“The second week of school, I put up a whiteboard, and I took it down six hours later when I came back to my room and someone had written, ‘Go home trans freak’ on it,” Mcnulty said. “Then, about three weeks ago, I came back to my room and someone had keyed a letter ‘T’ into my door. So, it’s not going unnoticed, but the fact that that attitude exists, while I was kind of expecting it, is still very hurtful.”

Mcnulty said she thinks education can help prevent incidents like this from happening to other students.

“I think the education of how, just because your gender identity isn’t your birth sex, that’s no weirder than your gender identity matching your birth sex. I feel like that kind of education can go a long way,” Mcnulty said.

Dr. Brent Bilodeau, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, also believes education is key to making UW-Whitewater an inclusive campus.

“Every faculty member and every staff member, at some point in their career, will encounter a trans or gender non-conforming student. And so, education about them, understanding their lived experience, is a priority for every person on campus,” Bilodeau said.

Student housing

Like Mcnulty, student housing is a concern for many transgender college students. Nepper agrees that having a safe living environment is a crucial part of having an inclusive college campus.

“If you don’t feel safe where you live, then it affects everything, because home is where you’re supposed to be able to relax. So if housing isn’t inclusive, then there’s no feeling of safety and that goes into every other part of life, too,” Nepper said.

In Mcnulty’s case, she was given a single dorm room when she expressed concerns about not feeling comfortable living with men and not knowing if women would feel comfortable living with her.

Beginning next fall, transgender students will have another housing option.

Starin Hall, an on-campus residence hall where students are grouped into suites comprising four bedrooms, a bathroom, a living area and a small kitchen, will be a gender-neutral housing facility starting in the upcoming school year.

“If someone identifies as a man but is not legally considered male, that person can still decide to live with other guys in Starin Hall, or vice versa,” Konrad said. “So people can choose who they live with, so that’s going to be very helpful so that people can live with someone they feel comfortable with.”

Bilodeau said he would like for all housing on campus to become gender-neutral, but it would require a shift in the University of Wisconsin’s current housing policy.

“To do it comprehensively across all the halls would require a gigantic change in statewide policy. Not to say that that wouldn’t be an important thing to pursue, but we were really wondering, ‘How can we do it right now?’” Bilodeau said. “So Starin is the current answer. It’s not ideal, and I think we need to do more work, but at least it’s a place to start.”

Currently, University of Wisconsin policy 24-1 regarding coeducational housing states, “Coeducational housing in the University of Wisconsin System, as implemented under the conditions of this policy, shall be construed to mean men and women occupying separate living areas by floor or room.”

Because of this, traditional dorm rooms where two students occupy a common living and sleeping space would not be eligible as gender-neutral housing because individuals of different genders would not have separate rooms as they will in the Starin Hall suites.

Bathroom facilities

For students who identify with their birth sex, choosing which bathroom to use is typically an easy decision. For transgender students, however, it can be a nerve-wracking one.

“We had a speaker on campus who is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and she said she’s been living as a woman for many years. She said she still gets nervous every time she goes into a public bathroom that has multiple stalls in it because she always wonders, ‘Is this the day that somebody’s going to harass me?’” Konrad said. “I think that’s really revealing that the bathroom can be such an issue that even the head of the biggest transgender organization in the country is still nervous about it.”

UW-Whitewater currently has a number of single-occupancy or family bathrooms to accommodate students with physical disabilities. Konrad said campus officials are in the process of renaming male- or female-designated single-occupancy restrooms as gender neutral or family bathrooms to alleviate some stress for transgender students.

She said they are also looking into creating more gender-neutral bathrooms across campus.

Collegiate sports

College sports teams are typically divided between men and women. In September 2011, the National Collegiate Athletic Association approved a new policy that allows transgender student-athletes to participate on the teams that fit their gender identity as long as any hormone therapy a student may be undergoing is consistent with NCAA policies.

In addition to competitive college athletics, intramural sports and club teams often allow co-ed teams, which allow transgender students to play sports without having to worry about selecting a gender-based team.

“My instinct is when I think about how those teams form is that you go in it with your friends, and I think there are lots of co-ed teams as options here, too,” Bilodeau said. “A co-ed, co-gender option in as many athletic opportunities as possible is a great one for this population.”

Transgender students on a college campus face many problems other students may never even consider.

Konrad, Nepper and Bilodeau all view UW-Whitewater as a “campus in progress.” They think the university is taking steps toward creating an inclusive and non-discriminatory environment for students of all gender identities, races, physical and mental abilities and backgrounds, but there is still a ways to go before everyone’s needs are met.

By continuing to educate students, faculty and staff on transgender issues and seeking to improve accommodations for transgender students, UW-Whitewater can create a safe and inclusive environment for transgender students.

Mcnulty encourages students and faculty members to keep an open mind in regards to transgender students.

“They’re a person. They were born. They have feelings. They fall in love. They think. They eat food. They go to the bathroom. They’re just slightly different in gender, and if you’re not afraid of the opposite sex, why would you be afraid of something in between?” she said.

The Nov. 12, 2013, meeting of the Jefferson County Board was held at Jefferson County Courthouse. The board discussed the budget for the upcoming year.

Amendments to the proposed 2014 budget were the focus of the Jefferson County Board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 12.

At the meeting, board members had the opportunity to appeal elements of the budget and propose alternative uses for the money.

Amendments

County parks and recreation were two of the most-targeted areas of the budget. Board member Gregory Torres proposed three amendments to areas of the budget dealing specifically with county parks.

In his first amendment, Torres proposed eliminating $10,000 from the budget which had been allocated for a nine-hole Frisbee golf course at a local park.

“I’d be happy with these funds going toward current or future needs, park needs, other needs, towards anything, even the bike trail – any sort of item that isn’t such a want, that isn’t something I view as unnecessary,” Torres said.

Because Jefferson County already has many parks, Torres said additions like a Frisbee golf course should be done at the local level which would allow the county to focus on maintaining the current state of its parks.

“Adding to or increasing what we offer shouldn’t be our goal. Our goal should be maintaining what we have,” he said.

Torres’ amendment was turned down with 22 members voting to keep the money in the budget, five voting to remove the money from the budget, two absent and one vacant.

Another amendment proposed by Torres would have removed $13,000 from the budget. This money had been allocated to fund a well at a local park.

Torres argued that the well was unnecessary and people could bring water from home

“I’m as big a fan of a bubbler as the next guy, but it seems to me that’s a lot of money, and frankly, you could buy a lot of bottled water with that money,” he said.

After hearing arguments from other councilmembers about the necessity of the well for bathroom facilities at the park and the additional expense it would take for the park to use city water, Torres took the floor and stated he would be voting against his own amendment.

The amendment was turned down with a final vote of two yes, 25 no, two absent and one vacant.

Amendments were brought to the table on a number of other budget items.

  • An amendment to decrease funding for a county bike path did not pass. Many board members argued the paths would draw people to parks and increase tourism to Jefferson County.
  • An amendment to decrease money allocated for grooming and maintaining snowmobile trails was turned down. The snowmobile trails were seen by many as integral to Jefferson County tourism.
  • An amendment to eliminate easements for farmers was turned down.

The Budget

County board chairperson John Molinaro said the county’s total spending is about $83 million. He said all departments were expected to decrease their budgets by 1 percent for the upcoming year, and all but two departments achieved this goal.

“Human services and the health department, if you want to lump those together, are by far the largest expenses that we have. Then you follow that with the Sherriff’s department followed by highway, and then if you go into the top 5, I think parks comes into there,” Molinaro said.

One of the biggest challenges with determining the budget was allocating funds to groups who wanted or needed money for improvements.

“We argued last night about the extra $3 million for the bike trail out between Watertown and Oconomowoc, and of course there are a lot of economic development benefits to that bike trail coming into existence, but one of my concerns was at least four of the departments had come to us and said, ‘We want to be added on to the bond issue,’” Molinaro said.

The county budget and levy passed with three board members voting against it.

StayFocusd logoThis semester, I’m taking a very interesting class called Stress Management. The course name is a bit of a misnomer – it’s more about ways to prevent stress than manage current stress.

In any case, it’s brought up a lot of topics that have sparked my interest.

Helping others also helps you.                                                                   -Sleep, exercise and proper nutrition are the building blocks of a stress-free life.                                                      -Just like too much exercise can cause burnout, we suffer decision fatigue at the end of the day.

Social Media: Our downfall

Today, we were discussing social media and how being “plugged in” actually causes us to disconnect from each other. We feel that interacting with friends, family and co-workers through websites like Facebook or Twitter is on the same level as having a face-to-face conversation, but it really isn’t. By communicating almost solely through text and the internet, we’re taking away the valuable skill of how to hold a real-life conversation.

Rarely do individuals make eye contact with each other, and the art of striking up a conversation with a stranger is all but lost thanks to portable electronic devices. Instead of fighting back a bit of nervousness to talk to a stranger while waiting in line or walking between classes, we resort to listening to our iPods, playing on our smartphones, texting friends or otherwise ignoring the world around us.

By depriving ourselves of the opportunity to meet new people, we all miss out on chances to network or make new friends. Who knows if that person you stood in line behind at that restaurant could have changed your life?

How to fight back

We each need to take action to limit our engagement on social media. With things like Facebook, a little bit goes a long way. Checking the websites once in the morning and once in the evening should be enough to sustain us all throughout the day. We don’t need to constantly be connected, comparing our lives to those of our friends and over-sharing the minute details of our day to day activities.

By installing web browser extensions or smartphone apps such as StayFocusd (an extension that limits the amount of time you can spend on certain websites throughout the day), we can potentially fight the addiction so many seem to have with social media. We can free up the amount of time we have in a day, and hopefully spend more of our time in face-to-face interaction with others.

Conversation is a valuable skill, and it’s slipping away from us. By drastically cutting back on the time we allow ourselves to use social media, we can work on improving our real social lives.

An agreement that could help Whitewater residents conserve water and save money was passed at the Whitewater Common Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17.

The Common Council agreed to allow Whitewater to be the testing ground for water conservation project H2Oscore.

H2Oscore is an online program that allows anyone with a water bill to track their water usage. According to Dr. McGee Young, the project’s founder, it is a good way to raise awareness on water use during drought.

By using the H2Oscore website, Whitewater citizens can take advantage of the H2Oscore Conservation Rewards Program, an incentive system that they can use to obtain discounts and store credit at participating local businesses.

The many landlords who rent properties to students in Whitewater are critical to the success of H2Oscore. For these landlords, H2Oscore could have additional benefits. Read more

Books: My first love

September 5, 2013 | 2 Comments

I’ve always loved books. I can remember being a little kid and refusing to go to sleep without someone reading me a bedtime story. There’s just something magical about words on pages. They do impossible things and create entire worlds that could not have existed otherwise.

This past year, I got really into reviewing books. When I was younger, I always wanted to keep my books private, and I hated when people asked me what I was reading because I didn’t want to share the stories I loved so much. Now I have an entire blog completely devoted to sharing my thoughts on different books and book-related topics. It can be hard to keep it consistently updated because my reading speed varies drastically. Either I blow through a book in one sitting or it takes me weeks to slog through it.

One of my favorite things about book blogging, though, is the sense of community. There are millions of book blogs out there, and the people who run or maintain them are constantly reading the reviews posted by other people on different blogs. It’s easy to connect and share your posts with others, because there’s already an established interested. People who love books seek out book blogs, and many people love books.

I also review books for a website called The Daily Quirk. The site is mostly devoted to lifestyle and entertainment articles aimed at women in early adulthood. I love blogging about books for them, because I often get to read advance copies of novels that haven’t been published. It’s really exciting to be able to read a book that hasn’t even come out yet and then review it before most people even get a chance to read it. With these types of reviews, your opinion can really influence whether people will go out and pick up the book.

I graduate this December, and if I could have any job in the world, I’d want to review books for a living. Sure, it might mean having to read some really terrible literature, but I don’t think there would be anything better than getting paid to read.