Think Before You Speak
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 00:10
Like all Catholic universities, Georgetown has grappled with crafting policy and public positions on gay rights matters. At times, university administrators have put their feet down on the subject; other times, they’ve put their feet in their mouths.
In a Sept. 19 feature appearing in the Georgetown Voice about the creation of GU Pride’s first trans* representative, a quotation attributed to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson affirmed the university’s conservative stance on gender by saying: “There is an emerging view that gender identity is sort of something you play with. I think that is quite a different view than the Catholic view of identity and of human sexuality.”
Since the article ran, objection to Olson’s statement has surfaced on campus and social media, with a particularly strong response written by a Georgetown student and featured on the student-run blog Feminists-At-Large. No doubt backlash to the article stems partly from the stance asserted by Olson and shared by the university: that living outside the gender binary is not condoned by the Catholic Church. And given the university’s Jesuit and Catholic affiliation, that line is unsurprising and even reasonable in proper context.
What is surprising, and frankly inexcusable, is the casual manner with which Olson’s words treat the issue. Describing the existential struggle and societal intolerance countless transgender individuals face as “play” is not only grossly imprecise, but disrespectful and wrong. It trivializes a difficult and often painful journey undertaken by people all over the country, including those within our front gates. Such statements can also serve to alienate students who may be facing these struggles, which only lead to a community further divided.
As more and more transgender individuals begin to transition during college, it is clear that confronting transgender issues is a new and challenging frontier — not only at Georgetown but at all universities. While blunders like Olson’s are not uncommon, it is important to keep note of rhetoric when dealing with this subject. The words we choose to discuss this issue must be appropriate and respectful.
Indeed, it’s not a topic that anyone, administrators included, should play with.