As part of the campaign Stop Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Transphobia, trans students and allies have been demanding changes to certain University policies. Advocates held two protests for this cause last semester, one on Oct. 15 and the other on Nov. 18. In interviews with The News-Letter, advocates expanded on their goals for the upcoming semester.
The protesters’ four demands to the University have been to allow instructors and students to display whichever name they prefer in the Student Information System (SIS), revoke former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s honorary degree, extend graduate students’ insurance to cover “cosmetic” procedures such as facial feminization surgery and facial hair epilation and guarantee equal numbers of cisgender and transgender people on every committee that decides on trans matters.
Matthew Morgado, a second-year doctoral student in the William H. Miller III Department of Philosophy, discussed how University policies directly affect trans individuals in the Hopkins community in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I’ve heard of some people who have been outed through the problem with SIS. They're unable to get facial feminization surgeries, which is very important for them,” he said. “They're not really being listened to by the University... They're being ignored and marginalized.”
At the Nov. 18 protest, doctoral student Luce deLire reflected on asking for changes from the University.
“My experience is the administration doesn't move if you don't push them. I'm sorry to say it — it would be nice if it was otherwise, but all that nodding and smiling and nice emails that I have received with the ‘this is great,’ ‘we have to change this,’ et cetera — it's not going to change anything. Nothing,” she said. “It's only going to make me, personally, more angry.”
Associate Research Professor of History Jules Gill-Peterson also spoke about working with University officials in her speech at the second protest.
“They’ll smile and nod, they'll sympathize, they'll empathize and then nothing ever gets done,” she said. “We have an opportunity here to think about how to mobilize more broadly against the infrastructures of the University.”
Names on SIS
The first demand of students, being able to choose which name they want in SIS, has not been fully met by the University.
SIS has allowed some students and faculty members to display preferred names since 2019. This was expanded to University systems that included staff, faculty and students/learners on campuses in East Baltimore effective Dec. 1. However, Hopkins affiliates’ legal names, legal genders and birth names remain on display.
Gill-Peterson addressed her discomfort with this policy in her speech.
“I can't believe I have to get up in 2021 and be like, ‘Please use my actual name.’ That just seems beyond outrageous,” she said. “I think it's really kind of disturbing.”
DeLire hopes the University will invest its revenue into a cloud management solution that would draw data on student and faculty names, genders and pronouns from one centralized source. This would prevent people’s dead names from resurfacing on online University platforms where they did not yet change their name.
In an email to The News-Letter, Vice President for Communications Andrew Green highlighted that the University is coordinating efforts to allow users flexibility to choose to display their preferred names.
“SIS has displayed a preferred first name for students for several years, and a preferred first name for faculty was added to SIS Self-Service for faculty this year. A preferred first name is also available for faculty in myJH searches, Office 365, Blackboard, CoursePlus, eIRB2, and Interlibrary Loan,” he wrote. “Our next step is to work on displaying preferred middle and last names (surnames) for faculty, students and staff in SIS and other downstream systems to the extent possible within the limitations of those systems.”
Green stated the University is coordinating efforts across several departments to make these changes and that legal surnames cannot be removed from records, but efforts are being made to allow users to display their preferred names in as many places as possible.
DeLire noted that, thus far, the group has seen progress in altering SIS to allow students to display chosen names, with the approximate completion for this goal being in the summer.
Merkel’s honorary degree
Advocates’ second demand calls for revoking Merkel’s honorary degree and exposing her transphobic policies. Last summer, Merkel was awarded an honorary degree to celebrate her contributions to world affairs and the strong ties between Germany and the University.
According to Morgado, who cited Merkel’s violation of trans people’s rights, this honorary degree is problematic.
“Angela Merkel has blocked constitutional changes as the chairwoman [of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany] and the chancellor of Germany for 10 years regarding trans issues,” he said. “She has never come up and said... ‘I hate trans people,’ but effectively her party has blocked changes that were required by the German Constitutional Court.”
The University’s Board of Trustees manages the honorary degree process. According to Green, the University has made no updates on the status of Merkel’s honorary degree despite student concerns being referred to the Board of Trustees.
Health care for trans students
The third demand calls for the extension of graduate student insurance coverage to include procedures currently classified as cosmetic that would improve some trans students’ well-being.
Despite University action such as establishing the Center for Transgender Health in 2017, Gill-Peterson claimed that the University is not providing the necessary rights or care for Hopkins students, faculty and affiliates and community members.
“[Hopkins has] dubbed itself ‘the center of public health’ for the entire world during the past few years and... claims on the surface to be trying to redress its own very violent history of transphobia,” she said. “It's really just... unconscionable.”
DeLire elaborated on how the health-care policy conveys deeper issues in how transness is viewed.
“The University is making a clear distinction between essential and nonessential care for trans people... That is a deeply transphobic notion of what transness is and is about,” she said. “On the other hand, it's totally cis-centric, as though every trans person wants to effectively be a cis person and 100% look like a cis person. That's not true.”
Two weeks ago, graduate student advocates Ryan Warwick, Jo Giardini and deLire released a joint statement regarding their demands. The statement reported that three groups have been established to help resolve health-care inequity for trans people at Hopkins; they expect inclusive insurance policies to be in place by Aug. 15 at the latest, with a goal of being completed by July 1.
Green wrote about changes in the University’s health-care plan for trans students effective last spring.
“We are committed to improving healthcare and wellness for all students. In the 2017/18 academic year, we removed the $100,000 year cap for transgender surgery benefits. Last spring, Vice Provost Kevin Shollenberger initiated the Gender Affirming Care Team,” he wrote. “This multi-disciplinary group is focused on improving access to healthcare for trans and non-binary students and is led by the university’s chief medical director in consultation with the clinical program director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health.”
Inclusion of trans students in University decisions
Protesters’ fourth demand calls for trans inclusivity in decision-making bodies.
In an interview with The News-Letter, deLire emphasized the importance of assertiveness in getting the University to act on student demands.
“We shouldn't be nice to the administration,” she said. “We shouldn't be nice to whoever sits on the switches regarding this, whoever has power regarding this.”
She discussed one of the key efforts that the University can undertake to help meet students’ demands.
“Listening, cultivating channels for listening and... inviting some trans, nonbinary people and students into positions where they can advocate and guide the administration is kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “We already have the knowledge, [and] we have the expertise. All we need is for the people who are in a position to make change to come to us.”
According to deLire, advocates for Stop JHU Transphobia have had several meetings with members of the administration but reported that an expected meeting in January was never confirmed by the University, and an invitation was sent for a meeting in late February instead. Advocates are concerned this represents backsliding on the University’s earlier agreement to meet regularly with the group.
Warwick, Giardini and deLire emphasized the need for vocal participation to encourage University action in their statement.
“One thing that we can certainly do to move admin forward on all of these issues is inundate them with complaints, advice, and vocal calls to action,” they wrote. “We encourage you to be ready to push for these policies and join these committees. It seems that the admin knows that they are in the wrong, but we worry that without vociferous opposition, they will return to business as usual... That is why we have to act now and not wait to see what the administration will propose to us and then react and adjust to it.”
According to the group’s website, there are also initiatives planned to highlight the University’s past of supporting transphobic academics as well as experimenting on and denying care to trans people. Goals for this initiative include a seminar series and funding for trans faculty.
The group encourages sending either individual or collective letters from departments to members of the administration and advocating on social media.
Molly Gahagen and Oriel Savir contributed reporting to this article.
Readers can sign this petition to support the advocates’ campaign.
Advocates use this webpage to share updates and information.