CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), which came under scrutiny and protest last week for allegations of discrimination and harassment on their campus, says they have begun reaching out to LGBT groups and will hold trainings for campus security staff, the college said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. Simultaneously, community members and advocacy organizations are continuing to apply pressure to the school, in hopes it will adopt more inclusive policies and issue an apology for its treatment of a transgender student.
“Throughout its history, CPCC has worked to be fair as well as respectful and considerate of all students and employees,” Jeff Lowrance, CPCC’s public information officer, said in the release. “Through this recent experience, the college has realized other institutions and communities across the country have been challenged by similar issues. That’s why the college wants to talk with LGBT organizations to learn how others have achieved understanding and accommodations while being fair to all.”
A transgender student, Andraya Williams, has said she was harassed and detained by campus security on March 18. Additionally, she and her attorney, Sarah Demarest, say school officials worked to prevent Williams from filing a complaint. One official, Williams said, told her she “has no legal rights.” A student-organized protest rally and march was held on Friday, April 4.
“In being discriminated against by the very people who are staffed for my safety, intimidated by own school staff, laughed at and bullied by my own school staff — these things are prime examples of why I still need a public apology and why we still need a policy change,” Williams said at the rally.
The college’s response to the incident has also been criticized. The college initially said Williams was escorted off campus for refusing to present a student ID. A later incident report released to media contradicted the college’s earlier statements, revealing Williams did, in fact, show her ID. The exact details of the exchange between Williams and campus security remain disputed.
Additionally, the college had said in its first formal, written statement on the incident that it would review and examine their policies. Only hours later the same day, the college had apparently finished their review and said they were “certain” their policies were in compliance with all laws. The school was also criticized for its seemingly-confrontational interactions with users on the social networking site Twitter.
Now, though, the college hopes to begin addressing several issues from the incident and other concerns, such as LGBT-inclusive policies, through its discussions with LGBT organizations.
Campus officials will meet with CPCC’s LGBT student group, Spectrum, as well as Time Out Youth Center’s on Wednesday. Sources tell qnotes that staffers in CPCC’s student life department will visit Time Out Youth Center’s offices on Wednesday morning, with Dr. Marcia Conston, CPCC’s vice president for enrollment & student services, meeting directly with Spectrum on Wednesday afternoon. The college also said it plans to speak with Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy group.
The school will also hold two training sessions for campus security “to ensure they are familiar with college philosophy, policies and procedures.” CPCC also plans to post the locations of gender-neutral and family restrooms on their website.
“After this first series of best practices discussions,” the statement notes, “CPCC will identify others in the community who will provide additional insight into LGBT issues to CPCC and other educational institutions who would like to learn.”
Williams’ attorney acknowledged that CPCC’s Tuesday statement shows some progress. Yet, she said the school has yet to take any concrete steps toward a resolution.
“It sounds like CPCC is taking a step in the right direction,” Demarest said. “However, the administration has neither apologized to Andraya nor addressed any of her concerns. Only time will tell whether or not CPCC will make meaningful changes resulting in a campus that is safe for transgender students.”
Campus advocacy group pushes
Campus Pride, a Charlotte-based national LGBT student advocacy group, is hoping to keep up the momentum for change at CPCC. On Sunday, the group launched a petition on Change.org, with nearly 500 signatures Tuesday afternoon.
The petition mirrors the list of action items requested from Williams, her attorney and students who protested the school last week. They want the school to offer a formal apology, permit Williams to use restrooms consistent with her gender identity, provide LGBT-inclusive trainings for all faculty, staff and personnel and revise CPCC non-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer said he and his organization had over the past 18 months worked with students, staff and faculty over to address LGBT students’ concerns. Weeks before the controversial incident in March, Windmeyer met with more than three dozen administrators and faculty.
The movement for change, Windmeyer has said, was well underway before the March incident. But, if policies and practices had already been in place, the college’s treatment of and response to Williams might have been dramatically different.
In an interview last week, Joshua Burford, assistant director of sexual and gender diversity at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, said his school’s policies are examples of proactive practices.
“Having policies in place to address specific needs is really important,” said Burford, who knows of only two problematic incidents which have occurred on his campus in the nearly two years he’s been there. Because policies and practices were already in place, he and other university staff were able to quickly and proactively address the incidents, protect the students affect and use the incidents as an educational moment for others involved.
“That’s what policies are for, so we know how to respond,” he said.