Miami officials face discrimination charges
Kaeden Kass is a transgender male student who is facing a difficult decision with potential legal implications for Miami University.
After applying to be a resident assistant (RA) Kass received a job offer. The complication: Miami is requiring Kass to reside with female roommates because his birth certificate states he is a female.
Kass feared this would happen when he sought the job.
"I knew I would be stirring the pot if I applied, but I didn't want to not take opportunities just because I thought I might run into controversy," Kass said. "I was very clear with Residence Life from the start that if they wanted to put me in a sex-segregated corridor it would need to be a male one because living in a female corridor would not be acceptable for me and they assured me this was fine."
According to Kass, he was reassured when he saw on the general application form every candidate fills out there was not a line for 'sex' but rather 'identified gender.' Kass explained why he did not wish to be placed in a female dorm.
"I'm just as male as any other guy walking around Miami," Kass said. "As soon as I am forced into an all-female space, my [male] identity gets erased. I just cannot handle being invisible like that anymore."
However, a few weeks into the process Kass said he was informed that the Dean of Students, Susan Mosley-Howard, representatives from the Office of Residence Life and others were meeting to discuss his application.
Shortly thereafter, Kass met with Mosley-Howard, where he was informed they were going to house him on the basis of his legal sex.
"I was told that they have to go by my legal records and they kept informing me repeatedly that legally I'm a female," Kass said. "I felt that I was treated like a delusional person who doesn't know I'm trans and who is not aware of the complexities of my situation. It felt condescending."
Kass said he has filed an official charge of discrimination with the Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity against Mosley-Howard as well as against Robin Parker, general counsel in the Office of the President and against Jerry Olsen, director of the Office of Residence Life.
Demere Woolway, Miami's coordinator of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (GLBTQ) Services, was involved in the talks about Kass' case. She said she is displeased the university has been unable to accommodate Kass thus far.
"I think it's really unfortunate that we weren't able to find a housing situation that was what was appropriate for this student," Woolway said. "I personally feel that we should be able to house people on the basis of their gender identity and not just their sex."
Not only has the process made Kass feel uncomfortable, he said he feels it is in violation of university policies: the University Statement Asserting Respect for Human Diversity and the University Statement of Non-Discrimination.
Both of these contain language stating that all at Miami must work to ensure everyone feels comfortable and the latter states: "Miami University is committed to providing equal opportunity and an educational and work environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, or veteran status."
Kass sees his case as directly contradictory to these statements.
"I don't see how this is not discriminating against me," Kass said. "At Miami we have all this rhetoric about embracing diversity and not discriminating against anyone on any basis and Miami is not living up to these values."
Woolway agreed that on some level the statements are not being adhered to.
"It gets complicated," Woolway said. "I do think at the very least the decision is not respectful to the spirit of those policies. The spirit is that we are going to pay attention to people's gender identity and fully respect their gender identities. But I'm not a lawyer and don't know if that language is legally binding."
According to Associate General Counsel in the Office of the President Chris Wilson, the university cannot provide any information regarding whether such a complaint has been filed.
"I can tell you that the university takes all reports of discrimination seriously and has policies and procedures in place for investigating complaints of discrimination," Wilson said.
Kass said President David Hodge has notified him that an investigation by an outside party will begin now and could go until May 5.
Mosley-Howard was unavailable for comment and Olsen declined to comment.
First-year Katie Tank explained why she feels university officials took the position they have.
"Miami has probably chosen to take this stand to try to eliminate controversy," Tank said. "They probably thought sticking to a legal definition of gender would be the easiest way to do this, but it looks like there will be controversy anyway."
Kass is nearing a decision on his job offer.
"I feel like I've already lost," Kass said. "They've already basically said they aren't going to respect my gender identity and so I pretty much have no choice but to deny the job."
Both Kass and Woolway expressed a desire to raise awareness of these issues and encourage a greater level of acceptance on campus.
"Trans students are members of our community here; we should be working to make our residence halls and other places on campus open and inclusive for anybody that is a part of our community," Woolway said.
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