Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana reaffirmed Harvard’s commitment to protecting transgender student rights last week in light of President Donald Trump’s recent rollback of protections allowing transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
“I think we have a responsibility to make sure that everybody is treated in a dignified way,” Khurana said in an interview Friday. “I think making sure that people are able to use the facilities that are authentic to their identity is a part of that dignity.”
Trump rescinded Obama’s policy on Feb. 22, with members of his administration instead arguing federal law does not protect a transgender student's right to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Trump’s decision sparked protests across the nation and on Harvard’s campus; on Feb. 27, dozens of students gathered in the Yard to express their support for transgender rights.
Reflecting on Trump’s new policy, Khurana said he believes protecting transgender rights is the “right thing to do.”
“It’s a moral and ethical issue about treating people with dignity and I think Harvard College is committed to that,” he said. “Period.”
Some Harvard affiliates said they were pleased Khurana had chosen to speak in support of transgender students and transgender rights at the College.
“I appreciate his words of support, and I want to make clear that those things don’t go unnoticed,” said Lily M. Velona ’18, a member of the student-run Trans Task Force.
Velona added, however, that they believe Harvard should also take “concrete actions like implementing gender neutral bathrooms” in public places such as Lamont Library and the Science Center.
Many of the College’s 12 houses have converted gender-specific bathrooms to gender neutral ones in recent years, and administrators have said building gender neutral bathrooms is a priority in the ongoing House renewal project.
Sheehan D. Scarborough ’07, who serves as the director of the Office of Student BGLTQ Life, wrote in an email Tuesday that he was delighted—but not surprised—by Khurana’s words.
“I think it’s very meaningful for Dean Khurana to speak in support of the College’s trans population,” Scarborough wrote. “He’s been a strong supporter of BGLTQ student life, and this is no exception.”
Scarborough sent his own message to BGLTQ students at the College shortly after Trump announced his new policy. In the email, sent over an undergraduate BGLTQ email list on Feb. 24, Scarborough assured students that “Harvard’s protections for transgender students remain in place.”
“As someone who cares deeply about the dignity of every member of this community, I was upset and disheartened to read the news about the rollback of federal guidance to schools regarding protections afforded to transgender students,” Scarborough wrote to BGLTQ undergraduates. “I want you to know that you have a right to be here, to be visible, and to thrive.”
Khurana said Friday that he had his own message for transgender students at the College.
“I would say that I haven’t lived everybody’s experience, but I hope that our students know they’re not alone, that the people who are at the College—the staff and the faculty—are here because of them,” Khurana said. “Our students are what make us a school, that’s why we exist.”
“They’re not an afterthought,” Khurana added.
—Staff writer Hannah Natanson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @hannah_natanson.
—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.
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