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Deerfield Begins Transgender Discussion
Sarah Jane O'Conner '18 Staff Writer
March 9, 2016
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Starting with the Martin Luther King Day celebration in January, DA students were asked to think about inclusion on campus. This theme was discussed in mandatory workshops on MLK Day, and further efforts have promoted inclusion across campus ever since. Kayla Corcoran, a teaching fellow, Inclusion Plan Coordinator, and Deerfield alumna, described the process by which these inclusion efforts were developed, stating that last spring, “The Board of Trustees passed a resolution to eliminate all forms of discrimination from our community.” Deerfield is creating a Strategic Plan of Inclusion

On Thursday, February 25th, DA hosted an extended school meeting with the goal of furthering the inclusion of transgender people within the community. Perry Cohen ’94, a transgender Deerfield alumnus and founder of The Venture Out Project, and Meg Bolger, founder of Pride for All and co-creator of the Safe Zone Project, led the meeting. Cohen and Bolger, who also hosted a workshop on MLK Day called “Building Your Transgender Toolkit,” gave DA students and faculty guidance on how to be supportive allies of trans people through describing proper pronoun usage and answering any questions that the community had about gender, sex, identity, and more. Cohen and Bolger also provided a basic vocabulary regarding trans issues, introducing the audience to terms such as “cisgender” and “genderqueer” to help them understand transgender identities. Before the event, Head of School Margarita Curtis sent an email to the student body, informing them that the workshop aimed to “help [the students] understand and respect differences in gender identity” and ensure “that everyone at Deerfield feels included, respected, and affirmed.”

Before Cohen and Bolger began their workshop, a Deerfield faculty member came out to the school as a transgender woman. Math Teacher Alice Grimm stated her preferred name and pronouns to the audience, spurring a standing ovation. A first-year teacher at DA, Ms. Grimm later explained her decision to come out. “I looked at the cost that being closeted was imposing on me and I considered whether I felt ready to be me in a public way.” She added, “While I am excited about the ways that Deerfield can grow, I have already cried tears of joy at the extraordinary support I have received from all parts of our community—parents, students, staff, and fellow faculty members.”

As was the case with Cohen, it is very possible that some students at Deerfield may be questioning their gender identity. Ms. Grimm, after experiencing the difficulties that can come with transitioning, has important advice for any students who may be transitioning, or who want to be supportive allies. On the issue of misgendering, which means using the wrong pronouns, when addressing an individual, Ms. Grimm stated, “Try to get the name and pronouns right. This is about affirming that someone is who they say they are. Even cis people get misgendered, calling a woman with a short haircut “sir” for example…I understand that it is often an unpleasant experience for them as well. Intentionally misgendering someone can be profoundly hurtful.”

Ms. Grimm said she hopes to reassure individuals, who may be confused or anxious about their uncertainty with their identity. She encourages them to consider experimenting with which identities “fit” them the best, saying, “Trust your self-knowledge. There is no such thing as not being “trans enough” to deserve transition…Try changing how you think of yourself, how you form your appearance, maybe playing a character of a different gender. Even just reading books with a variety of authors and characters to try on different ways of thinking of yourself. I didn’t really feel settled in my identity until after I read S/He (autobiography by Minnie Bruce Pratt) and I kept saying ‘that’s so me! I feel that so hard!’” Ms. Grimm also offered herself as a resource: “I am super happy to have a conversation about gender identity with interested students.”

Though many members of the community feel that Deerfield has made progress regarding inclusion, some believe Deerfield still has a ways to go. Valentina Connell ’16, leader of Deerfield’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, said, “I think [Deerfield] still can be a stifling place for students who don’t conform to the ‘norm’ of gender and sexuality. It can be very hard to express yourself at Deerfield, since it is a school very rooted in tradition and therefore follows many heteronormative/cisnormative conventions.”

Mr. Charley Sullivan, who works in Deerfield’s Office of Inclusion and Community Life, believes that the key to preserving both DA traditions and a strong, inclusive community is to ask of traditions, “Does this nurture us as a community? Does it strengthen us and help us grow? Is it available to all? If a tradition does that, it is worthy of our heritage. If on the other hand it creates division, or excludes, if it tears down rather than build our community, we should look carefully at whether it should continue, or how it should be adjusted to be worthy of our heritage.”

With the formation of the Inclusion Plan, the Deerfield community has begun to prioritize inclusion in all aspects of community life. Mr. Sullivan added, “The work of inclusion is multifaceted, complex, and involves all of us. Given our rapidly changing demographics, no one gets to stand on the sideline because they feel that this has nothing to do with them. The individual and collective work of building an inclusive community is critical and benefits us all.”