Gender Assignment and Re-Assignment, Okie Edition

For the simplistic and overly emotional, issues are always easy.  But the person in charge of assigning dorm rooms at the University of Oklahoma is finding out that fortune cookie solutions aren’t nearly as easy to implement as they are to spout.

Amy Buchanan, director of marketing and communications for OU Housing and Food Services, emphasized the university’s commitment to its students.

“The University of Oklahoma is committed to providing a safe and comfortable living environment that enhances the overall learning experience of our students,” Buchanan said. “There may be some circumstances when a student’s success at the University of Oklahoma depends on the ability to live in a specific type of environment. Students who are concerned that they will be housed in a situation that could impact their personal development, ability to sleep and/or study at OU can apply for special consideration.”

That certainly sounds nice. Peace, love, happiness and, of course, accommodation. What could possibly go wrong?

A closer look at the OU Housing Policy reveals that housing is assigned by birth gender unless the student has already completed a sexual reassignment surgery.

OU places students in the dorms based on gender, as well as a survey taken by incoming freshmen about their lifestyles.

So guys get other guys, hopefully who share their desire to study or love of Pink Floyd, as roommates, while gals get other gals. Except that’s so binary, and colleges no longer exist in a binary world because the Department of Education says so.  And as raised by a transgender student at Oklahoma, the old methods of assignment fail to meet OCR’s new guidance.

Paula Sophia Schonauer, a graduate student at OU studying social work, is a transgender woman.

“I’m concerned about the housing policy,” Schonauer said. “It requires students to submit proof of medical procedures in order to have a nondiscriminatory dormitory assignment.”

She went on to explain that most incoming freshmen are approximately 18 years of age and often have not had the chance to undergo reassignment surgery before entering college.

Quite right. If discrimination based on gender identity violates Title IX, as DoE and DoJ contend, requiring students to have undergone reassignment surgery before accommodating them is a condition too far. But isn’t there a compromise, a way to provide comfort to those with non-binary gender identities while still not giving the frosh gal a shock when her roommate gets undressed that first night?

OU does offer “gender sensitive housing.”  This housing option is provided for students with “unique circumstances” and is considered on an individual basis. Wording in the policy emphasizes that there is no guarantee an applicant will have their preferences met.

Schonauer said she isn’t sure how the university does this without stigmatizing transgender students.

“I’d like to know what that looks like,” Schonauer said. “I’d like to know how they pull that off without stigmatizing people.

Right again. Herding non-traditional gender students into their own ghetto housing not only stigmatizes them, but deprives them of the normal educational experience of living with their fellow non-stigmatized students.

Faced with this conundrum, University of Oklahoma administrators have discovered that the same Title IX that has been used by colleges and universities nationwide to justify the imposition of incomprehensible rules and due process-free tribunals isn’t actually law.

In mid-May, the Obama Administration issued a statement announcing that public schools and universities — like the University of Oklahoma — will either allow transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity or face possible monetary punishment.

The Obama Administration’s statement was meant as guidance for the schools; no legal action can be taken if there is a lack of compliance. OU later released a statement saying that it will be complying with all state and federal laws.

Amazing how schools pivot to discover this when it’s in their self-interest.  Then again, since OCR threatens to pull federal funding with non-compliance with its “guidance,” and puts out scary and threatening press releases about schools “under investigation” for discrimination, the fact that this isn’t law doesn’t mean schools will challenge their bureaucratic overlords.

For too many deeply passionate people, the answer to all questions is simple: don’t discriminate against transgender students.  First, there remains a question of whether this is covered by Title IX at all. Perhaps it’s exactly what the law should be, but it was not what Congress had in mind when Title IX was enacted. If this is what America wants the law to be, great! Congress, get to work and make it happen. But that’s what we have a legislature for, not administrative agencies expanding their reach beyond their mandate and pulling law out of their butts.

But more to the point, if this is what the law should be, then there are myriad policy choices to be made in order to put it into effect. These aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers, but choices. Should male students be housed in a room with a pre-surgery transgender male (which, if I get this correctly, means the roomie has female genitalia) if he’s not comfortable with it? Who comfort level wins? Who suffers? Is a bit of stigma okay, or is any stigma intolerable?

So you think that’s perfectly fine?  Woo hoo. But you don’t get to make policy choices for other people (which could explain why no one calls you senator or King of the World, unless, of course, those are your chosen titles and local law requires others to indulge your peculiar fantasies). Each of us has a comfort level with how sensitive issues should be addressed, our sensibility.  Much as we are absolutely certain that whatever we feel is not merely right, but reflects the universal agreement of all wise and reasonable souls, others tend not to see it that way.

These nouvelle notions may sound great from a distance, particularly for those living in that simple world where unicorns trot on rainbows, but they raise hoary problems that defy easy solution.  At University of Oklahoma, good questions are raised, and despite the effort to wrap up the response in a pretty pink bow, every policy choice involves some problem, someone’s interests being sacrificed for someone else’s interest.

Had this been determined through the proper political means, we might have some policy choices laid out so that we know, and can embrace or fight according to how they match your feelz, what the lawful answers are. Instead, we’ve got a mess rammed down Okie throats by half-baked radicals out to create Utopia in Oklahoma.

6 thoughts on “Gender Assignment and Re-Assignment, Okie Edition

  1. JAV

    How entitled do you get to be for, “your circumstance is special, so we’ll try, but no guarantees” is the same as being stigmatized?

    Being shor-, “vertically challenged”, I should have asked my uni to make everyone walk on their knees so I could see them in the eyes.

    1. SHG Post author

      If, and this is the initial question, it’s unlawful to discriminate against transgender students, then it follows that segregating them based on the characteristic would be similarly unlawful. That’s the problem. There are many moving parts to this issue, and once you make one thing unlawful, the sequelae need to be addressed as well.

  2. ShelbyC

    According to CNN, some folks change there gender identity every few days or even hours. I’m not sure how schools accommodate that.

    1. libarbarian

      Yeah. When I first heard the term “Genderfluid” I thought it was a stupid attempt to mock actual transgender people. By around the 3rd or 4th time I realized “Wait. I think they actually expect me to take this seriously!”

  3. D-Poll

    They had better be careful, because too much transgender-friendliness can also be a microaggression: I know people who claim to feel great “dysphoria” in San Francisco because there are so many men wearing dresses there that nobody can tell that these particular men wearing dresses are Actually Women inside. Good luck threading that needle.

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