Lawyer rules actions of Miami officials non-discriminatory
Published: Friday, September 7, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 7, 2012 01:09
Discrimination charges filed last school year by Kaeden Kass, a transgender male student, have been dropped. School policies go unchanged, but discussion continues.
According to Kass, controversy arose after he applied and received a job offer as a resident assistant (RA) last year and was denied his request to live in a male residence hall.
Kass said discussion began between Dean of Students Susan Mosley-Howard and representatives from the Office of Residence Life. According to Kass, he was informed shortly after he would be housed according to the gender listed on his birth certificate—female.
Kass said he was assigned to Flower residence hall in a suite with females, but turned it down. According to Kass, he now lives off campus with another male.
“I didn’t want to be a part of a system that was rejecting me,” Kass said. “If they’re not going to really stand up and think critically about what diversity means and challenge themselves to live up to their values then I don’t want to be a part of it.”
Kass filed a charge of discrimination with Miami University’s Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity against Mosley-Howard as well as Robin Parker—general counsel in the Office of the President—and Jerry Olson, director of the Office of Residence Life.
“I had to name specific people who I thought were discriminating against me, but it’s really not a people thing; it’s a system thing,” Kass said. “It’s hard to change the system.”
According to Kass, the system in place does not accommodate certain students, including but not limited to homosexuals and transgender individuals.
“We’re ignoring their identities and making them live with people that they can’t identify with—a situation which can more often than not be alienating and hostile,” Kass said.
According to Olson, Parker—who declined to comment—is the school official that would normally handle such cases but could not oversee Kass’ after being named in the complaint. Olson said as a result an outside party was brought in to do the investigation.
According to Kass, the investigation ended in May after being ruled non-discriminatory by a lawyer from Columbus, Ohio, Betty Stanton. Kass said school policy remains unchanged aside from the RA application, which now asks for students’ ‘sex’ rather than ‘identified gender’.
According to Mosley-Howard, there is no flaw in the system as Kass believes there to be.
“There are no other changes because the issue was not the policy or the process, so those things are still the same,” Mosley-Howard said.
According to Olson, if a similar situation arose it is impossible to know if it would be handled the same way.
“I think every situation winds up being unique, and we want every student to have the opportunity to serve in leadership roles,” Olson said. “Whether [a different case] would wind up being exactly the same is hard to tell because every case is different, but there is no interest on the part of our department to limit who is eligible to apply, and who is accepted to be an RA.”
Though he did not comment on the outcome of the case, Olson said he acknowledges Kass’ feelings.
“I don’t want any student to ever feel as if he or she has been treated unfairly—that’s awful,” Olson said. “I believe that Kaeden had felt he had been discriminated against, and we have to be able to respond well to students who feel that’s what occurred here at the university.”
According to Mosley-Howard, Kass was treated just as any other student would be.
“Each time a student applies to be an RA we look at the set of circumstances that they present, and then of course the process is exactly the same for every student,” Mosley-Howard said. “The process is very consistent across the board.”
Along with frustration over the outcome, Kass said the controversy got a lot of unexpected media attention, which led to hurtful comments that had a damaging effect on him.
“With the media, it’s so easy for people to de-personalize stuff,” Kass said. “It’s so easy for people to forget that I’m an actual human being.”
According to Demere Woolway, Miami University’s coordinator of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (GLBTQ) Services, negative reactions like the ones Kaeden experienced often stem from peoples’ lack of familiarity with transgender individuals.