What have been the experiences of GNC* and trans students on Wheaton’s campus?
A few current students and recent alumni share their personal experiences here:
Experience 1 (Class of 2022)
I had my name legally changed and had started taking testosterone before I got to Wheaton. My freshman year, I took two classes with the same professor and largely the same students for two semesters back to back. The students, and I, noted how the professor would misgender me from time to time. And then, finally, on the last day of class, the professor said “there’s only two men in this class”. That was wrong, of course — I was the third. And though he apologized for the comment, it still hurt deeply to know that for a whole year this teacher hadn’t seen me as a man at all. This turned me away from the department completely, despite my deep desire to continue learning the language. I love Wheaton. I feel at home here, but it’s far from perfect, from security concerns in housing to conversations around transgender identities being led by cisgender individuals, to such humiliation as being misgendered in front of an entire class — there’s things that need to change. I am forever grateful to the queer community on campus, and to non-queer advocates that have helped me find and cultivate a comfortable and safe space for myself and other students, however, sometimes I still get mail from the school with “Miss” and/or my deadname on it. There is still work to be done.
Experience 2 (Class of 2022)
Transitioning on the Wheaton campus was very welcoming and exceptionally open to learning about me but also so frustrating and invalidating at times. When I first returned to campus identifying as the opposite sex marked in my files, I was nervous about what would happen in my first class when my professor read out everyone’s name for attendance. I made a decision to introduce myself before every class or meeting to essentially “come out” to every professor and advisor so I could avoid any trouble. The professors and advisors would still continue to mistakenly misgender me throughout the semester. Unfortunately, I had a professor who consistently would misgender me and use my legal name when calling me out in class. It was at the time crippling to sit there and have to answer their questions about the subject. Another professor made many private interactions awkward and about my gender and would occasionally misgender me in class when presenting an example for the class–although it was so much more than just that. Every person that works in the Wheaton Environment contributes to my experience as a trans person at Wheaton. There were many moments of awkwardness between myself and a staff member either in the dining halls or in my own dorm building which made living on campus frustrating to navigate within. Interacting with Campus Safety around campus was also invalidating because when I had to present my ID it presented my legal name. These moments are a few of many experiences many trans students face on campus.
Experience 3 (Class of 2020)
I was openly transgender since my very first year at Wheaton College. Wheaton has a very strong network of faculty and peers who are supportive and ready to help students who identify as LGBTQ+. QTPOC, SAFE Haüs, Alliance, and the Base are all wonderful places LGBTQ+ identifying students can go to find community and support.
Wheaton’s transgender population is small. For my four years at Wheaton, I’ve only known a handful of other transgender students. Most of them were trans men, a few nonbinary, and I’ve only ever met two trans women on campus. In this regard, it can be particularly difficult for other transgender students to find community with one another. I ended up having to rely on the Internet to find other trans college students across the country when I needed to surround myself with other trans voices. While there are undoubtedly many cisgender allies at Wheaton, it can be easy to find yourself lonely or somewhat out of place at times as one of the few transgender and/or nonbinary students on campus.
Misgendering was another problem I’ve faced, as a trans student who was not on hormones. It was normally by faculty, however every time it happened they would approach me afterwards to apologize. I deeply appreciated the efforts taken by staff to make me comfortable, however having to navigate apologies could be difficult at times.
I am happy I had the opportunity to attend Wheaton as a trans student, and I hope other potential trans students find comfort and security on campus while making the most out of it! Best of luck from this trans alum!
Experience 4 (Class of 2019)
One of the biggest reasons why I chose to apply to and eventually attend Wheaton was the existence of Safe Haüs and the ability for incoming first year students to room with students of any gender. From early in my time at Wheaton I found that many members of the staff and faculty were ill equipped for interacting with transgender students. I dealt with frequent misgendering, mostly by Wheaton staff members, but also often by professors. I did not have a choice to not be visibly transgender as for my first three years at Wheaton I did not “pass” as the gender I identify with. I decided to use this position to advocate for myself and other transgender students, but was frustrated with how painstakingly slow the administration was to respond to many suggestions. The simple issue of changing one of the multi-stall bathrooms in Meneely to an all gender bathroom took 3 years. Wheaton prides itself on being an accepting and affirming environment for LGBTQ students, but there is a lot that can be done to support and protect transgender students. Pushing for mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff should not have taken as long to implement as it did. The burden of creating the necessary changes should not have to fall on transgender students, who are already disenfranchised and marginalized within the higher education system.
Experience 5 (Class of 2019)
At Wheaton, I chose to mostly interact with folks who were open to talking about gender and other core identities, which was generally affirming and educational. It was harder when I interacted with people outside of my microcosm. While I was never personally attacked for my gender or gender expression, I frequently felt unseen and my people not prioritized. Wheaton is a place where pronouns are often shared during introductions, but then immediately forgotten by supervisors, facilitators, professors, etc. This is especially apparent when anyone uses pronouns beyond he/she/they. Ignorance and apathy are prevalent themes among certain parts of Wheaton. Despite that, I was able to find a core community of people that was compassionate and encouraged growth. That is, to me, Wheaton’s strength.
*Gender Non-Comforming (GNC): (adj) Someone whose gender presentation does not align in a predicted fashion with gender-based expectations.