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Transphobia at Hollins University

While at Hollins University for my undergrad, the historically women's college made the decision to allow the admission of trans women. This was great news, as many other HWCs had done so in the years prior, but Hollins has a rampant problem with transphobic thought on campus. The administration has done nothing to actually protect the trans people that already exist on campus, and I wrote an article outlining what I was able to find out about their motivations to change the campus culture.

       Hollins University has been “all women” for a long long time. I use quotations with “all women” because as long as there have been people, there have been trans and nonbinary people, including in the spaces that we think are exclusively women-centric.  

       The transgender community on Hollins University campus is not safe. Don't let anyone tell you it is. As an intersectional feminist and a nonbinary identifying student, the Hollins campus has been anything but accepting or aware of intersecting and diverse identities. The administration at this university will never publicize this, because why would they? They want to appear as progressive, accepting, and diverse as their women’s college counterparts, although they have taken longer to change their admission policy, and have done nothing to protect these potential trans students once they are on campus.

       When you are a trans or nonbinary student at Hollins University, there is almost no privacy to that knowledge. Because the community is so small, about a third of the size of my DC public high school, one person knowing means the whole school knows. Or in some cases, when your admission to your university becomes a controversy on its own, you end up getting name-dropped on conservative-centered national news channels. E, a person who attends Hollins, was recently called out on the Tucker Carlson show and their testimony regarding the trans policy was used without them knowing. This is just one example of the trans and gender nonconforming community being threatened on and off the Hollins campus. 

       When I first arrived at Hollins in 2018, I had no way to describe how I felt about my gender, or how to express any of what I was feeling. I also had no idea how twisted the policy on admission of trans and nonbinary students was. As I grew acquainted with more of my fellow students, I realized there were many  folks who weren’t cisgender (identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth) at Hollins. Yet, our admissions policy spoke against the admission of trans and nonbinary folks, even in the very gender-diverse climate that Hollins was, and still is. At the same time, Hollins also had a large community of women that self-identified as “TERFs” or trans exclusionary radical feminists. For someone who has never heard this term, they might think that these people align themselves with feminism, but I can assure you, they do not. One of their primary beliefs is that trans women are not women, and trans men are not men. This is just one of their toxic beliefs about gender and how it works. 

       Hollins seems to be a breeding ground for TERFs. Being at university with “all women” seems to appeal to these students, and when they get to Hollins, depending on their expectations of the place, there are varying degrees of disappointment. Some of these people take it upon themselves to go to Twitter or Tumblr and rant about their disapproval, others manage to stay quiet and under the radar. Either way, this creates a toxic environment for anyone who isn’t a cisgender woman at Hollins. 

       During the Spring of 2020, I decided to take Feminism and Contemporary Art at Hollins. This was supposed to be a class about people who had a social impact through their art, through a lens of feminism and social advocacy. On the first day of class, as a primer for the rest of the semester, the professor posed a question about if men were capable of being feminists. This is where the discussion started to get a bit heated.

       With lots of back and forth about men and feminism, the discussion halted when a student mentioned how she had always seen her father as a feminist, because he did everything he could to raise his two daughters to be strong, independent women. This, apparently, was a controversial opinion. One of the known TERFs in the class spoke up, and thought it was important for the first student to know how wrong she was about men being feminists, and proceeded to interrupt the professor and the discussion to do so. The young woman speaking about her father proceeded to get very upset and leave the room, and the discussion continued. The discussion soon turned to the topic of trans folks, and only got worse from there, discussing how “men have consistently taken over women’s-only spaces”, which was their way of saying that trans women didn’t belong in women’s spaces, and in their argument, weren’t women. The professor teaching the class seemed stunned, like a deer in the headlights, and stayed quiet for most of the man-hating rant, then continued on with the lesson. 

       As many people in my generation do, I took to Twitter to express my frustration with the incident. This tweet, which at most was only 280 characters, unleashed something on campus I was not ready for. While my tweet was expressing the feelings I had about the incident and the reactions of the fellow classmates, the replies to the tweet accused me of being racist and that I was trying to get “woke points”. What I was tweeting had nothing to do with race, and had everything to do with the argument that had just taken place, but that didn’t matter. 

       This is just one incident where man-hating and transphobia prevailed at Hollins. Immediately following the incident, I spoke to the Dean of Students to possibly see what could be done about the issue, to no avail. The discussion with the Dean went nowhere, with him citing that we were a private university, and said that hate speech or harassment online wasn’t in the university’s control. Despite knowing that this was happening online and in the classrooms of the university, the Dean informed me that there wasn’t much the university could do, because this was all free speech, but that I could report it to the Title IX office. After taking the issue to the Title IX office as well, the chances of getting any kind of justice regarding this incident seemed to dwindle. The Title IX office said that there was nothing to be done because no threats had been made, and because most of the interaction took place online.

       This incident of anger and disrespect for trans students has also been accompanied by hateful and disrespectful speech online. Consistently, the students who self-identify as TERFs also ensured to make it known online. Through Twitter and Tumblr rants, their transphobic rhetoric lives beyond the classroom and is able to taunt and threaten the feeling of safety on campus of trans students. 

       One of these posts from a notorious TERF reads: “THATS MY EMOTIONAL SUPPORT TRANSPHOBIA”. Another segment reads: “I’ve officially decided I hate trans people! Wow. I’m going to say a slur now”. Maybe it’s because transphobic rhetoric like this has been accepted at Hollins for ages now, or maybe it’s because these students could be considered “popular” on campus, but none of these posts went reported, and therefore, nothing could be done. This is to say, despite the awareness of these students using hate speech online and in the classrooms, the University has done nothing to defend the lives of trans or nonbinary students on their campus or beyond, and has allowed this toxic rhetoric in classrooms as well. 

       Perhaps the administration of my university doesn't see the possible repercussions of this as dire enough. Transphobic language and transphobia in general have a serious impact worldwide. Trans women are among the most vulnerable population when it comes to murder and violence in this country, with 375 trans people murdered in 2021, which was a record number compared to the previous year. 

       With the updated admissions policy at Hollins, trans women can now be admitted to Hollins, as long as they “consistently live and identify as women”. While this is a bit of progress compared to the previous policy, it does nothing to de-escalate the problem, nor does it do anything to protect these women once they are on campus. So what is the answer?

       Holding students accountable for things they post online is far from a new practice. Since the dawn of the internet, there have been ways to track down who said what, and many schools and other institutions have made decisions to rescind acceptances or scholarships in response to what students have said online. So why hasn’t Hollins done this? In a recent conversation I had with the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator, Nakeshia Williams, she said that it simply depends on people reporting the incidents. 

       While I appreciate the sentiment of being open to hearing students concerns, reporting the issue is exactly what I did the first time, and my concerns were dismissed and minimized. This is just a part of the bigger systematic problem at hand. When the administration allows these sentiments to continue to thrive, they not only tell trans students they are not valued or welcome, but they also inherently support the transphobia that is occurring, and foster a place where these views and opinions are respected and can thrive. When the system that was created to help stop this does nothing, what can be done? 


If you are trans, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, or anything in between, do yourself a favor: don’t go to Hollins. Your money might be valued there, but your life, wellbeing, and humanity are certainly not. 

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