Within the past 70 years of SRU’s history, student groups, faculty and administrators have implemented policies and advocacy events and groups to support LGBTQ+ students.
However, this isn’t to say that these policies are perfect.
For one transgender student at SRU, she is typically deadnamed by professors at least two or three times each syllabus week. This occurs when someone refers to a transgender person by using their name prior to transitioning, whether intentionally or not.
According to this student, who is a junior political science major and transgender woman who preferred her name be withheld, the issue is that two administrative programs—Banner 8 and Banner 9—are running simultaneously. While Banner 9 can accept chosen names, Banner 8 will only show legal names.
The deadnaming issue occurs most often when professors print their classlist from Banner instead of D2L.
“They’re always using deadnames if they’re pulling from Banner,” the student said.
The issue isn’t exclusive to SRU either; the student’s girlfriend, who attends a technical college in Illinois, sees the same issue at her college with Banner 8.
“The problem really lies not in the Slippery Rock policy, but the fact that Banner doesn’t seem to want to use it together to allow people to use preferred names,” the student said.
The chosen name policy at SRU was enacted in March 2018. While the policy states that a chosen name can be used on certain documents and systems, the Banner 8 issue is still resulting in deadnaming for transgender or non-binary students.
The policy, however, is only one step in SRU’s recent history on inclusivity on campus.
From interest to activism
So, if SRU’s LGBTQ+ history is still changing today, where does it begin?
William Bergmann, chair of the history department, sought to find an answer. And as it turns out, there was not much scholarship on gay rights movements at rural colleges to begin with.
“Most historians when they look at this look at urban spaces for for the gay rights movements in general, and usually universities fall in that,” Bergmann said.
Bergmann’s research was originally a project for the President Commission on Gender Identity & Expression and Sexual Orientation (GIESO). Then, he wanted to investigate this topic as a research agenda to collect more information about rural colleges.
“I was really curious about why or how students could become engaged in this activism in rural schools,” Bergmann said. “Slippery Rock isn’t that far away from Pittsburgh, but it’s pretty out there, and it’s in a pretty socially conservative area.”
According to Bergmann, SRU’s LGBTQ+ history starts in the 1960s and early 1970s with a series of panels on homosexuality. These seminars and panels were dispersed throughout that time period, and especially around the time of the Stonewall Riots in summer 1969.
“[The panel] really speaks a lot to how gay activism was really visible within Pennsylvania, most of it in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” Bergmann said. “Students are interested and concerned about it.”
In the mid-1970s, the gay rights movement spread across PASSHE and namely West Chester and the Gays of West Chester. This group was invested in bringing gay rights to the Commonwealth of the Association of Students, a lobbying group of students from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
This marks the switch from an interest in gay rights to activism, Bergmann notes.
Later in the decade, Edinboro State College students posted an editorial in The Rocket in order to start a chapter of the Gay Information and Concern Team (GIACT) at Slippery Rock State College. SRU’s chapter of the team formed in spring 1979.
The energy of the ’70s dwindles out during the 1980s, and while gay groups were still active during this decade, they were not captured often in the limelight, including newspapers.
The next resurgence of the gay rights movement came in the early 1990s in response to the AIDS crisis and “culture wars,” or conservative responses to the liberalization of society, of the time.
“You have activism really taking root as students are responding to this, coming into this sort of political fold, and really trying to advance interests on campus,” Bergmann said.
In spring 1991, the Alternative Lifestyle Union organizes on campus. This group reorganized in fall 1995 as Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians, Allies Disarming Discrimination (B-GLADD), which will eventually become RockOUT, which has a heavy on-campus presence today.
In the 2000s, two events provided more support to LGBTQ+ students: the formation of GIESO by SRU President Robert Smith in spring 2006 and the grand opening of the first LGBTQ+ Resource Center in October 2007.
“[The formation of the resource center and GIESO helped] cement a voice of gays and lesbians and others on campus because now they have institutional legitimacy in a way that before really the institution hadn’t taken as firm of a stance on those issues.”
Resurgence of the last decade
Cindy LaCom joined the English department 26 years ago as a professor. Today, in their seven years of being director of the gender studies program, they have students who openly talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in a 100-level gender studies class.
“To be in a class where students openly talk about being bisexual or gay or trans or pansexual is just wonderful,” LaCom said.
LaCom, who grew up on the west coast, recognizes that the rural community of Slippery Rock contrasts with their own upbringing.
“I came from a very progressive community and when I was in high school, a lot of my friends were out,” LaCom said. “What I realized when I moved here was that that was an exception and not the rule.”
When LaCom started at SRU two and a half decades ago, they recognized that few students, faculty and administrators were out as gay. In fact, LaCom remembers a conversation with a closeted gay student during one of their first few years of teaching.
“I had a male student, and he had a small necklace with rainbow colors, and during a conversation, perhaps it was inappropriate, but I said, ‘Right on, I support LGBTQ+,’ and he turned bright red,” LaCom said. “He said, ‘How did you know? How did you know I was gay?'”
LaCom added that awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and specific identities created spaces for students to discover their own identities.
“If you don’t have a word for it, if there’s not a language to describe it, oftentimes it’s not called into being as completely as it could be,” LaCom said.
For alumnus Atticus Ranck, a 2012 SRU graduate with a degree in creative writing, he found one of his spaces on campus through RockOUT, which he led as a president for three years.
“It was really important to have other people around me who loved me and helped so I didn’t feel so isolated,” Ranck said. “I didn’t know a single other LGBT person until I went to college.”
Ranck, who works as a health program educator at the New York State Department of Health agency, went to graduate school at Florida Atlantic University.
Ranck visited campus in 2016 for his presentation “It’s A Hard Trans Life.” Returning to campus post transition, he said that he was able to catch up with the professors and counselors who knew Ranck before his transition.
“It’s making sure that people know who I was before was never a lie, but who I am know is a more authentic version of myself,” Ranck said.
Within the past 10 years, PASSHE and SRU have enacted policies to become more inclusive of LGBTQ+ students, faculty and administrators. On the state level, PASSHE approved same-sex partner benefits for union faculty and coaches. On SRU’s own campus, 35 single-occupancy, accessible restrooms were changed to all-gender restrooms.
SRU’s LGBTQ+ history also transcends into Rock traditions. Last fall, the homecoming committee changed the titles of “king” and “queen” to “royalty,” allowing students to running for homecoming court regardless of gender expression.
As an overview of his research, Bergmann said that the students, faculty and administrators who advocated for LGBTQ+ rights within the past 70 years helped create the social spaces for LGBTQ+ people to live today.
“They really were bucking social norms at the time and trying to carve out space,” Bergmann said. “The acceptance of LGBTQ+ people on campus today is a product of these hard fought battles and very difficult times for students. Not to say that students don’t have a difficult time today by any means, but these were hard fought battles to even gain the level of acceptance there is today.”
A true chosen name policy
In response to the deadnaming issue caused by Banner 8, a group of students in LaCom’s Intro to Gender Studies class is working to resolve the issue.
The students—sophomores Maddie Bastos, Gia Iozzi, Riley Watson and Bailey Turner—have met privately with LaCom to discuss the deadnaming issue on Banner 8 and create action steps to stop deadnaming on campus.
On the current chosen name policy, there is a note than D2L is in progress of accepting chosen names. LaCom said in an advocacy group meeting earlier this month that the policy should be amended to include where specifically a dead name may be listed on D2L or Banner.
“We have to be transparent,” LaCom said.
The advocacy group will meet again next week with LaCom and Emily Keener, assistant professor of psychology, to continue the conversation on deadnaming on D2L and Banner as well as residence life.
Another part of the policy the anonymous transgender student said needs modified includes prefixes. In MySRU, each student’s name also includes a gendered prefix, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” For transgender students and faculty, this can be problematic, especially if a faculty member doesn’t have a doctorate degree and is assigned a gendered prefix in Banner.
This issue is currently not addressed in SRU’s chosen name policy.
“It’s not an issue that can be solved easily, but the biggest step now is to finish upgrading that software,” the anonymous student said.
For alumnus Ranck, he said a trans-inclusive campus completely eliminates the assumption that everyone is heterosexual or cisgender.
“What that means is that we ask pronouns, we say our own pronouns first, we don’t ask invasive questions, we don’t ask questions about people’s body parts, we don’t assume that all trans people want to medically transition,” Ranck said. “Just don’t make assumptions about people’s bodies or what they may want.”
While policy changes take time to take effect, LaCom is encouraged for the future of gender identity and expression on campus.
“But I think at a pedagogical, curricular, faculty, staff, administrative and student level, change is happening,” LaCom said. “It’s a combination of the efforts of a whole bunch of people in terms of how that’s happening.”