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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Cowley: It’s My Campus Too

The U’s failure to address the growing culture of transphobia on campus is downright shameful and a disservice to its queer and trans students.
Carlene Coombs
Protestors hold hearts towards transgender youth sitting on the steps of the Utah State Capitol on March 24, 2022. (Photo by Carlene Coombs | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


As of late, anti-trans sentiments have slowly crept out of the shadows and reared their ugly head around campus. It’s become apparent that there are people at the University of Utah who believe they have more of a right to be here than others. And the worst part? Our university doesn’t care. 

The U is home to a diverse student body. Every student has a right to attend school, without the fear of harassment. Just as much as the U is your school, it’s my school too.

A Culture of Passivity 

The U hasn’t been excluded from the nationwide uptick in anti-trans sentiments. Recently, a campus group was allowed to post transphobic fliers on as many bulletin boards as they could stick them on around campus. The posters, approved by the Dean’s office, were allowed to stay up despite student protests. The U deemed phrases such as “The Trans Movement Harms Children” to fall under free speech, even though false pedophilia claims is a known tactic to attack LGBTQ people and falls squarely under the definition of hate speech.

As outlined in the U’s Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion’s strategic plan, they claim one of their main goals is to “ensure belonging for all.” I fail to see how the U’s response to recent instances of transphobia falls in line with this goal. Our university claims to be against discrimination in any way shape or form, but fails to take action when there are students facing discrimination based on gender.

The U’s culture of brushing off anti-trans behavior is nothing new. Frances Dowell is a trans man working towards an engineering degree at the U. After beginning his transition and starting to pass, he noticed that his coworkers and peers acted differently around him.

“Now that I pass, some people will make disparaging comments about trans people to my face and there is not a culture of shutting down or challenging these conversations,” Dowell said.

Effects of Transphobia on Trans Students

Trans college students are much more likely to face harassment than their cisgender peers. In a survey of 27,000 transgender adults, 24% who were out or perceived as trans during college faced discrimination and harassment. Of those, 16% opted to drop out of higher education. Although information and statistics about the challenges faced by trans students are readily available for anyone to read, our university administration has chosen to turn a blind eye in favor of protecting a campus group’s mission to spread misinformation about trans people.

Dowell said that the U has a large population of students that could be easily swayed by anti-trans misinformation.

“There is a large student body that doesn’t have strong beliefs regarding trans rights and safety and could be influenced either way,” he said.

The narrative pushed by these anti-trans groups rests on a foundation of baseless claims and a distortion of reality.

To someone unfamiliar with trans people, seeing blatant transphobia on campus could create the idea that this behavior is normal. One of the biggest perpetuators of prejudice against LGBTQ people is the spread of misinformation. Exposure to negative information surrounding trans people not only increases prejudice but also causes more stress for the trans people involved. In a study conducted to measure the effect of negative trans-related media coverage on trans people, it was found that negative messaging took a severe toll on a majority of participants’ mental health.

To promote tolerance and acceptance, the U needs to take a more active role in dispelling disinformation about its queer and trans students. Allowing transphobia to run rampant and unpunished not only reflects poorly on them but tells its student body it’s okay to discriminate.

Having an inclusive environment on campus benefits everyone. The exposure to diversity many people get in college creates a more tolerant and accepting society overall — and it’s the U’s self-appointed job to promote an environment of tolerance and acceptance on its campus. While some groups on campus believe the denouncement and removal of transphobia on campus stifles different schools of thought and violates their First Amendment rights, the First Amendment only protects you from facing repercussions from the government. It doesn’t protect you from scrutiny and protest from your peers and community at large.

Just like everywhere else our campus is for everyone, regardless of identity. The U’s failure to address the growing culture of transphobia on campus is downright shameful and a disservice to its queer and trans students. I hope the U takes the backlash it has received from its student body and listens to what the majority of us want — a campus where everyone feels like they belong.


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About the Contributors
Elle Cowley, Multimedia Managing Editor
Elle Cowley (they/them) is a Junior at the University of Utah pursuing a degree in Strategic Communications. Currently, they work for The Daily Utah Chronicle as Multimedia Managing Editor, at Slug Magazine as an Editorial Intern and at KUER as an Intern for RadioWest. Their favorite part of their work is talking to lots of different people and telling their stories. Some of the work they're the most proud of is their work on the narrative podcast, Can of Worms and their Op-Ed series on anti-trans legislation in Utah. When Elle isn't out in the field, they enjoy knitting, visiting record stores and reading pulpy sci-fi.
Carlene Coombs, News Editor
Carlene Coombs is a senior at the University of Utah graduating spring 2023 and is studying communications with an emphasis in journalism. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, hiking, thrift shopping and making Spotify playlists.

Comments (1)

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    AndreaNov 12, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    I’m really glad to see this article. I feel like it really captures the emotion and the sheer exhaustion the anti-trans sentiment has put on the trans and queer people on campus, and articulates the unfairness of this pass for hate speech. Well-said!