Photo By Reese Shebel

As part of the “Her Name is Jessica” campaign, SGA handed out name tags to raise awareness of the controversy.

April 19, 2016

‘Jessica’ campaign aims to bring visibility to LGBTQ student issues

During the week of April 4 to April 8, the Cleveland State University Student Government Association (SGA) hosted the “Her Name is Jessica” campaign — where members passed out nametags with the campaign title printed on them.

Students who received the nametag either from directly inquiring about the campaign at the SGA office or while members passed them out in the Student Center, were encouraged to wear the nametags throughout the week and to spread the word about the campaign.

SGA created the “Jessica” campaign after members learned of some of the struggles Cleveland State student Jessica Wilkins experienced at the university.

Wilkins participated in a panel March 24 called “Bridging the Gap” presented by fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon and sororities Phi Mu and Sigma Gamma to talk about issues that different races, genders and cultures face at Cleveland State.

Wilkins was invited to speak on the panel about issues that she and other LGBTQ students face at the university. At the event, Wilkins noted that some professors she has now and in the past have refused to call her by her chosen name of Jessica, and continue to call her the name she had before transition.

Andrea Hooks, graduate assistant for the Special Events department of SGA, attended the panel and felt that Wilkins’ particular situation surprised her.

“In an institution of higher learning, not calling someone by their chosen name is wrong,” Hooks said. “It really bothered me. It’s 2016. That should not be a problem.”

Hooks organized the campaign with the help of Wilkins and other SGA members to help bring awareness to what is happening to Wilkins and other LGBTQ students. She said she hopes that this passive approach will not only help ease in such a sensitive conversation but will help spread that word that this kind of discrimination is happening at Cleveland State.

“The ‘Her Name is Jessica’ campaign is a very peaceful way to start the conversation about this cause,” Hooks said. “[Professors] are people we really respect, and usually at the beginning of a course, they will ask what name you’d like to be called. This is the same – it’s as easy as calling her by her name.”

“For being such a diverse campus, this situation really floored me,” Hooks continued. “I take pride in my university and I want everyone to feel as welcome as I do. When you make a life change like that, it doesn’t happen overnight. When you’re cool with yourself and who you are, you want to be respected like everyone else.”

When asked about her experiences that led to the campaign, Wilkins, who started her transition three years ago, talked about how most of her professors were more than happy to accept her as female but a few gave her trouble about it.

“Because of my transition, I would avoid having the same professor more than once if they refused to call me by the right name,” Wilkins said. “I would email [professors] prior to the class requesting them to use female pronouns when talking or referring to me. Most teachers were okay with that but some didn’t want to do it.”

The reason that some of Wilkins’ professors have given her for not calling her by her preferred name is that they can’t remember most names off of their roster, let alone a complete name change.

“Since I was registered in the university as male and started my schooling as Andrew, I show up on registers and class lists under that name,” Wilkins said. “Most times, I correct them on attendance sheets and when they call me Andrew in class, I correct them then too.”

Wilkins said this experience felt like a denial of her transition and the fact that she now identifies as female, which makes her feel like she can’t talk to her professors for fear of them disliking her.

She was aware of the Safe Space program on campus, where professors can place a sticker on their door or window that indicates their office is a “safe space” where students won’t be judged and can come for advice, but finds them impersonal because most don’t tend to be well versed in the problems that transgender and other members of the LGBTQ community face.

As for the campaign, Wilkins said that it’s a step in the right direction and can be a catalyst for more social change at the university.

“Why not make the university [friendlier] for everyone, especially for [LGBTQ] students?” Wilkins asked. “Policy changes need to happen within the university.”

“Most [LGBTQ] students don’t speak up when injustices like this happen to them because they are afraid of the repercussions,” Wilkins continued. “It’s the fear. It’s not uncommon for our community to get attacked.

Some people aren’t as strong and I’m lucky to have a large support system behind me. I can use my experiences to help others through theirs.”

Wilkins said she hopes that the “Jessica” campaign will bring about or at least start a conversation for two specific policy changes: gender-neutral bathrooms and housing, and an office where LGBTQ youth can go for advice.

“I think establishing an actual physical office for [LGBTQ] students would really help,” Wilkins said. “I came to this university not knowing who I was and who to talk to and having a real entity here could help someone.”

When asked about any specific resources, bylaws or codes written for LGBTQ students, Yulanda McCarty-Harris, the director at the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), said that it’s always important to keep students educated and informed.

“Information is power and training and resources are essential. [Cleveland State’s] responsibility is to create a respectful and safe environment were all students can thrive and learn,” McCarty-Harris said. “I have always stated that the reason OIE exists is to remove the barriers, and if these issues become barriers to learning we need to stop it, address it and make sure it does not happen again.”

If students feel as though they are being discriminated against in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, they can report the event directly to OIE through its webpage, clicking “Anonymous Reporting” and then clicking “Make A Report” at the top of the page. Students and staff can report by calling 888-837-1824.
McCarty-Harris also said that Cleveland State does have gender-neutral bathrooms available around campus.

Those who would like to know where these restrooms are can contact the Department of Facilities and Safety at 216-689-2500 for more information.

“This campaign is about me, but at the same time it’s not,” Wilkins said. “Every [transgender] student is basically a “Jessica,” and I want this campaign to be a voice for them and to help them too.”


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