The Student Association joined an LGBTQ student organization last week in demanding explicit protection for transgender students in the University Code of Conduct.
Members of the Allied in Pride student organization have been fighting to alter the University’s anti-discrimination policy to include transgender students – and won a major victory on Jan. 27 when the SA voted unanimously to support the change.
The vote came after junior Devin Alston-Smith testified during an SA public comment session that he was harassed by the sisters of Zeta Phi Beta sorority, of which he was a member, and later forced to withdraw from the multicultural sorority for dressing and identifying himself as male – though he was born female.
“All of a sudden, it was just a huge problem – the way I dress, how I identified,” Alston-Smith later said in an interview.
Zeta Phi Beta President Vanessa White challenged Alston-Smith’s assertion, saying that he was suspended from active participation in the chapter because he failed to provide their graduate chapter with his transcript, adding that she was unaware harassment had been an issue.
“[Alston-Smith] chose not to participate by not turning in that transcript,” White said. “Our chapter had nothing to do with her suspension. She solidified her decision not to participate by destroying gifts and paraphernalia that we had given to her when she joined and leaving them on my doorstep. She made it clear she wanted nothing to do with us.”
Alston-Smith said that when he brought his issue to the University Police Department, he was unable to pursue it past a harassment report due to wording in the University Code of Conduct.
The University Code of Conduct currently protects students from discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation.”
“It’s absurd that we have students at this school who are not protected now,” said SA Sen. Michael Komo, CCAS-U, who is president of Allied in Pride.
Though the Student Code of Conduct does not specifically mention transgender students, the Guide to Student Rights and Responsibilities states that the University is subject to the D.C. Human Rights Act, which does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
“We feel we already have in place those protections,” University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said.
Komo said he hopes the policy will be changed by the start of the next academic year. With the SA senate’s approval, it will move forward to administrators in the coming weeks for review.
While Komo said Alston-Smith’s story is a major reason why the Code of Conduct should be changed, he added that there have been other incidents regarding transgender student rights that make this legislation relevant.
“Devin’s story was one of several different stories where transgender students have not been protected at this university for simply being who they are,” Komo wrote in an e-mail. “We need to ensure the safety of every single student at George Washington. This initiative will help to get us to that end goal.”
Alston-Smith said the current situation, if left unresolved, will continue to be problematic.
“All of this goes on under the radar and no one knows what’s happening,” Alston-Smith said. “LGBT students like myself are fighting against harassment, but also the school because they don’t know how to deal with it.”