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GRCC board discusses transgender policy

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GRCC trustees, administrators discussed transgender policy at today's board retreat.

The Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees discussed transgender policy today, after trustee Richard Stewart expressed concerns about inclusion at the Sept. 12, board meeting – a move that  raised concerns among students and staff.

At the most recent board meeting, Stewart raised concerns about the college’s policy regarding transgender people using the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

“The guidelines force females to share locker rooms, shower rooms and restrooms with males,” Stewart said to the board on Sept. 12. “A man simply says, ‘Well, I feel like a woman today’ and enters a women’s restroom or locker room, even if young girls or women are already there, giving that predator complete access to his victims. Ironically, with the approval and encouragement of the federal government.”

At today’s board retreat, trustees, college administrators and GRCC President Steven Ender sat down to discuss the policy, which has been in effect for over a year.

“I think it’s critical to remember two things,” Chairperson Bert Bleke said before opening discussion. “One is the right of an individual board member to bring up a discussion of what he thinks is important to the institution … I also think it’s equally important that everybody understands that one board member does not speak for the system (GRCC, the board).”

Ender said students approached the college two years ago about transgender name changing in the school system, which the college helped them do. From there, more students became more vocal about the same topics, and requested more action.

“We adopted our transgender EO (equal opportunity) policy to help people understand the nature of the things that we need to do at the institution to protect individuals with those characteristics,” said Kathy Keating, general counsel.

The conversation went around the table, as board members took their turn to speak on the topic, or ask questions.

Ellen James, board member for 25 years, said she understood Stewart’s concerns, but disagreed with  what he said.

“When I hear ‘somebody waking up deciding they’re going to be a woman that day,’ it always kind of disturbs me,” James said about listening to Stewart’s comments last week.

“The decisions that we make on our board have to be in the best interest of all of our students.”

Trustee Cynthia Bristol raised questions about whether or not  the policy needed to exist, and why the college’s mission of diversity and inclusion didn’t suffice.

“I think it sends a message to students,” DeVries responded. “It sends a very clear statement that, ‘you are safe here, you are welcome here’ and more than that, it shows them what we’re going to do.”

Bristol said she still wasn’t convinced about the validity of the policy.

“I think there are going to be issues probably out there that we haven’t really thought about yet,” she said.

Bleke ended the hour-long discussion with a mock vote on who agrees with the policy. The board majority voted in favor 5-2, with trustees Bristol and Stewart opposing.

“It is critical to respect individual opinions, but it’s also critical to respect that the majority has to rule,” Bleke concluded.

At the next board meeting, Bleke said he will make a statement on behalf of the board regarding this topic. He said he has no further plans to discuss this topic, but will not “mute” a board member wanting to express an opinion.

“I would consider us moving onto other things,” Bleke told the board.