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Investing in Trans Inclusion Isn’t a Choice. It’s Harvard’s Imperative.

Transcriptions

By Frank S. Zhou
By E. Matteo Diaz, Crimson Opinion Writer
E. Matteo Diaz ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall. His column, “Transcriptions,” runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

Only 46 percent of trans students agree with the statement “I feel like I belong at Harvard,” according to a 2019 University-wide survey, the lowest of every demographic subgroup surveyed.

These statistics are sobering, but not surprising — at least not to trans students like myself.

This first became clear to me during Visitas last spring. Like my fellow admits, I arrived on campus bright-eyed and eager to learn about the opportunities that awaited me. But beyond typical curiosity about coursework and extracurriculars, I was also brimming with questions about what it would mean for me to be trans on campus.

Unfortunately, the answers I received were grim. I interacted with very few trans students, and the ones I did meet told stories rife with challenges and frustrations. Though most had found a place here, carving out space on campus where they belonged, it hadn’t been easy. There was not a large or cohesive community of trans people at Harvard, and there were many spaces on campus where trans people didn’t feel they belonged.

The takeaway — later confirmed by my own experience — was crystal clear: People can be trans at Harvard, but Harvard isn’t meaningfully invested in supporting trans people.

This failed investment manifests in a variety of ways. Accessible, all-gender restrooms are not available consistently across the University. Gender-affirming healthcare continues to be difficult to access and navigate. And though the University allows students to record a chosen name, gender-inaccurate legal names remain in use by many campus entities. So many facets of our institution still fail to account for trans identities and needs.

I do not mean to imply that support for trans students is completely absent. Indeed, students at the College have access to the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, known affectionately as the QuOffice (i.e., Queer Office). The QuOffice plays an essential role in supporting queer and trans students, serving as a safe space where our community can gather. My first semester here was undoubtedly better for having access to such a space.

Still, in spite of best efforts, the programs that do exist lack the institutional resources and backing necessary to wholly serve our community. Case in point: The QuOffice is located in the basement of a freshman dorm, right next door to the laundry and trash rooms — an evocative indication of how much the University values and is willing to invest in us.

Furthermore, of the programs that do exist, few are designed specifically to serve trans students.

General programming for the broader LGBTQ+ community is vital, but the challenges that trans people face are also very distinct from those faced by cisgender queer people. Issues ranging from restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare or legal transition to an increased risk of experiencing harassment or violence require unique attention.

Trans people deserve to be more than an afterthought. To fill in the gaps left by the University, we have taken it upon ourselves to advocate for the needs of our community and create spaces that center our identities.

These endeavors are no simple feat — they require our continued, intensive labor. Though our community is resilient, we are also small and over-burdened. Trans students already have so much on their plates, from Harvard’s rigorous coursework to the challenges of navigating daily life as a trans person. To effectively mobilize our community on top of everything else is a trying task.

Small and undersupported, the future of our organizations hangs in the balance, on the brink of collapse every time a student graduates or must step back due to burnout. To make real progress, this structure is not sustainable.

We trans students are tired of communicating our needs over and over again. We shouldn’t have to bear so much of the weight of supporting and advocating for our community for what are, in truth, basic needs.

There is no excuse for inaction. Harvard can afford to do better.

There are many steps Harvard can take to better support its trans community. It can better measure our needs by including our identities in more of its data collection efforts. It can train or hire more staff who understand and are equipped to help us. It can create and facilitate institutionalized spaces that are dedicated to our community. Or it can simply better fund programs that already exist, like the QuOffice or the Social Transition Fund.

Trans people represent a vital part of the Harvard community, and our population is only growing. The Crimson’s survey of the Class of 2027 found that 1.6 percent of respondents identify as transgender, significantly more than previous freshman classes.

I want these students to know that they are not just allowed at Harvard, but that they are truly wanted and valued here. I want trans admits to visit campus and see a connected, thriving trans community. I want trans kids to be able to envision a future for themselves at one of the world’s premier universities.

Harvard must begin investing in trans inclusion now. Because we do belong here, and we deserve to know it.

E. Matteo Diaz ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall. His column, “Transcriptions,” runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

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