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St. Mary’s College Students Stage Sit-In for LGBTQ Rights

October 19, 2021
 
 

A small group of students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland is continuing a sit-in over that started almost a week ago in the lobby of Calvert Hall, the administration building, following what they say were years of anti-LGBTQ interactions with college administrators and diversity staff.

The sit-in, organized by Call Us By Our Names, an LGBTQ+ rights student organization, started Wednesday afternoon after members of the student government met with Vice President for Student Affairs Jerri Howland. Junior Alex Clay, a member of the student government and co-founder of Call Us By Our Names, said one member asked Howland if there were any updates to the college’s cumbersome name-change policy, the process by which students can officially change their names for university records. When Howland could not provide any, Call Us By Our Names decided to stage a sit-in to draw attention to their concerns, which also include transphobia and a lack of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Sonder Van Wert, a junior, said one transgender student faced discrimination by the Office of Information Technology, which refused her request to put her name on her student ID.

Administrators responded to Inside Higher Ed’s questions by forwarding two emails they had sent to students. The first, sent by Howland, offered a “sincere apology to our LGBTQ+ community members for falling short in our efforts to date. We can and will do better,” Howland wrote. President Tuajuanda Jordan wrote an additional email Thursday, after meeting with students at the sit-in, acknowledging that the college would meet some of the student demands -- including establishing gender-neutral bathrooms in every academic building and allowing LGBTQ+ students to change their student IDs to reflect their chosen names. Jordan wrote that she regretted “the time it is taking to resolve some of the issues you raised.”

For some students, that wasn’t enough. Clay started a petition listing further demands of Call Us By Our Names, which included: a formal apology sent to all students about the name-change policy; the official resignation of Kelsey Bush, interim chief diversity officer; a bias investigation of the IT Office, Athletic and Recreation Center, and the Wellness Center; and priority given to transgender and LGBTQ+ issues on campus. On Saturday, Clay posted an update online saying the Wi-Fi had been cut in Calvert Hall but the sit-in continued. On Sunday, Clay said students spoke with Jordan and a Board of Trustees member and had reached compromises except for on the resignation of Bush. They were waiting for approval of a plan of accountability created by Call Us By Our Names to end the sit-in.

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