Comments regarding transgender bathroom policies from a trustee member at the latest Grand Rapids Community College board meeting have sparked frustration across campus.
Trustee Richard Stewart addressed the college’s Transgender Equal Opportunity Policy, which allows students, staff and faculty to use the bathroom that resembles the gender they identify with.
“Whether we want it or not, we and others are really being bullied in the name of Title IX into adopting these guidelines and in so doing are being forced to open the door to a host of alarming dangers to the very females that Title IX was created to protect,” Stewart said during the board comments at the end of the meeting, Monday.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration mandated that schools protect the civil rights of transgender students. GRCC adopted this policy in August of 2015.
Stewart said the policy “concerns our values and treatment of people” at GRCC.
“The guidelines force females to share locker rooms, shower rooms and restrooms with males,” Stewart said. “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.”
Stewart told the board it is their duty to be the community’s voice, who he claims is unsatisfied with this policy.
GRCC student and Student Alliance External Affairs Director Maleny Crespo was at the meeting Monday, and she said she had to leave the room after Stewart’s comments.
“Immediately my heart started racing fast,” Crespo said. “I was filled with a lot of sadness about how he was talking about transgender people as predators.”
Crespo has organized a Facebook event inviting students, faculty and staff on campus to attend the next board meeting and participate in public comment.
“We’re trying to get as many people as we can to come over and just show solidarity for the trans policies that are set on campus,” Crespo said. “Everybody is welcome to that.”
StandOut Adviser Simon Kittok said he and StandOut President Beau VanSolkema will be making a statement at the board meeting as well.
“Comments from Trustee Stewart create a less safe environment for our trans students,” Kittock said. “It just shows a great deal of misinformation about this community because if you look at statistics, trans folks have never been the predators in these scenarios. They are much more likely to be the ones attacked, harassed, assaulted in these spaces.”
“I encourage Stewart to actually meet some trans people and listen to their stories and hear some of the struggles that they’ve had because it’s pretty obvious that Stewart’s misinformed about this community.”
VanSolkema, a transexual student himself, agreed.
“It’s a basic human right that we should all have,” VanSolkema said.
GRCC President Steven Ender emailed a statement to The Collegiate today in response to the trustee’s comments.
“GRCC strives to ensure that all of our students and employees have a safe and inclusive learning environment,” Ender said in the email. “Statements of individual Board members reflect their personal views and not those of the institution.”
VanSolkema said students should care about these issues and take a stand.
“We’re all in college for a reason, to get an education,” VanSolkema said. “Start paying attention … especially when it affects who we are and our safety and our core values. As a basic human right, we should be able to go into the bathroom that we feel like we identify with.”
Kimberly DeVries is the Title IX Coordinator at GRCC. She said the policy aligns with the college’s inclusive mission, and that comments of one individual do not necessarily reflect those values.
“The college has taken very deliberate and very careful steps to implement the policies that we think align with our values,” DeVries said.
DeVries encouraged concerned students to talk to her, talk to StandOut members or visit the counseling center on campus.