Pockets of Understanding

With all the attention focused on the Yale fraternity as of late, not much has been said about the positive issues that take place on campuses throughout the country. I’m writing this blog to talk about a very positive experience I’ve had today.

Hi, my name is Winter Trabex. I’m a transgender lesbian feminist who doesn’t eat meat. I currently go to Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. Shippensburg is a state school that has been around for a while, but doesn’t have a lot of national recognition. Having our grounds double as public property might have something to do with that.

For a while, the prevailing belief at Shippensburg was that no one wanted to get involved with anything. It was more common for people to do their own thing than it was for anyone to try advance a cause in any way, shape or form. I personally don’t have a problem with people who don’t want to get involved, although I prefer it if they would. People have lives, and it’s tough to ask someone to throw down for a cause they’re not familiar with.

My goal at Shippensburg has been to create what I call “pockets of understanding.” I don’t have the intent of reaching every student on campus. Rather, I want to create small groups of informed people who can make better decisions about the issues they face on a daily basis because they’ve been informed. I have mostly focused my attention on feminist issues if for no other reason than the Women’s Center on campus seems to run the most events, along with the Resident Life staff. So I chose to run my own event instead.

Awareness of any issue is not something that comes about by itself, and this is especially true of transgender issues. Rather than relying on some group or organization to advance the cause, I decided to do it myself. I came in to the semester planning to hold a transgender discussion panel. To my knowledge, this is the first event of its kind ever held at Shippensburg University.

To give you a frame of reference for the event itself, I feel I should mention that Ship is located right smack dab in the middle of Amish country. When it gets warm, the horse and buggies are going here and there, sometimes to Wal-Mart, sometimes to other places. We have a public library that I regularly abuse for videos and Emily Bronte novels, as well as two police stations within walking distance of each other: the campus police, and the town police. Central Pennsylvania is a conservative area, and everyone has always bemoaned the fact that it is so conservative because that precludes them from getting things done. We have a Multicultural Student Affairs building and a Women’s Center, but both of these are located in places that students have to go out of their way to visit. When I was putting together my panel, I chose to rely on people rather than organizations.

Because of the massive amount of construction on my campus, I chose to hold the panel in the TV lounge of my dorm. Three speakers showed up tonight, including myself, and we were able to reach at least eighty people (if the sign-in sheet is right) about what issues transgender people face and what still needs to be done to ensure equality for us. I will admit that I used the lure of extra credit to get everyone to come in, but come they did. So many people showed up, in fact, that we ran out of chairs and people had to sit on the floor.

Eighty people in the audience. Three speakers. There’s my pocket right there.

The need for things like this cannot be understated. Professors aren’t going to go out of their way to describe what transgender people feel, because they only know from reading a book or a study. Even first-hand accounts can only go so far. The reader don’t get a sense of a person’s sorrow, frustration or happiness by reading the words on a page and such a process doesn’t allow the reader to humanize the speaker in question.

So it is with every issue on campus everywhere. I chose to focus on transgender issues because I am most familiar with them. However, feminist issues are no less important. Issues involving racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism and any other -ism you want to name bear no less significance because they are all important. Even in a college that draws no national attention, there are people who matter. Every new pocket of understanding is just that much further along towards ensuring that we live in a society in which no one is discriminated against for any reason. That is why I urge everyone to try. Your silence can only serve to work against you.

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