Dorms at Auburn are set up so that in many, such as the Hill and the Quad, two students share a room and four share a bathroom. Elijah Matheny said he would have never felt comfortable in a dorm.
As a pre-transitioned trans man, he would not have wanted live with other men, but he would not have desired to live with women either. The dilemma is one that many trans students face at Auburn, Matheny said.
“When I got to college I hadn’t started my transition yet, so I knew going in that I wouldn’t have been comfortable with being in the boys’ dorm necessarily,” Matheny said. “Not due to the fact that I didn’t think I was a boy yet, but due to safety reasons I wouldn’t have wanted to be a pre-transitioned trans man in the guys’ dorm, looking the way I did.”
Breaking BarriersAuburn University students of differing ages, races and genders packed into the room in the student center, more pouring in every moment, for Breaking Barriers.
Auburn’s Student Government Association, Black Student Union, Spectrum: Auburn University’s Gay-Straight Alliance and International Student Organization hosted the event earlier this week, which opened with discussion groups of around 10 students each. They spoke about inclusion, diversity on campus, housing, on-campus dining options, and how comfortable students feel as themselves on campus.
It was not just a chance to air grievances. Many students took the opportunity to divulge personal details they had only shared before with close friends.
Matheny told the students he had just met that he would have never been comfortable in a dorm like many of his fellow classmates or peers.
“That’s honestly probably the first time I’ve talked about it really, unless it was with my friends or something,” Matheny said. “So just getting the word out there that this is a thing that multiple people are experiencing. It’s not just a ‘me’ thing.”
Three Auburn staff members — Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Bobby Woodard, Vice President for Enrollment Joffrey Gaymon and Adeola Fayemi — led a panel discussion after the student groups broke up.
SGA President Mary Margaret Turton asked, “What can we as students do to help include inclusion and diversity across campus?”
Fayemi first brought the subject around to how students should define diversity.
She said that in this day and age, diversity has come much further than just race, that each student is diverse.
“We are diverse here in this room, but if somebody doesn’t have a voice, then they are not included,” Fayemi said. “So some people have said it’s like inviting a person to a party, which would be Auburn, right? But then not asking the person to dance.”
Fayemi struck a chord with students.
She said that the answer is for students to look to their administrators to set the expectations.
“It is always so important for a prospective student when they come to the campus to feel welcome, to feel they can see themselves be here, they can see themselves as a student here,” Gaymon said.
This means that current students should show themselves authentically, Gaymon said.
Woodard said Auburn may not be where it should be, but that it isn’t for lack of effort.
“I do believe that we’re trying to make strides,” he said. “I do believe what we’re doing over here and what we’re doing in (other areas), I do believe that the university, and I say we because I think we all have to have buy-in, is that we’ve got to make a better difference.”
Part of the steps Auburn is taking will be included in its new strategic plan, which will be released soon, Woodard said.
“I don’t know if this meeting alone is going to get anything done about (the problems), but it’s enough to get the thought in people’s heads,” Matheny said.