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Do you think the court’s decision poses a threat to trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students’ right to equal education? Do you think it could chill these students’ own speech?
Yes to both. Trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students will not have an equal chance to learn if professors or other school personnel are permitted to discriminate against them. I don’t know any transgender students who feel comfortable taking Meriwether’s classes, which is a problem because some of the classes he teaches are graduation requirements. Now that the 6th Circuit has prevented the university from requiring professors to treat transgender students equally, I am concerned that other professors may adopt the same discriminatory practice as Meriwether. Certainly, there is no question that trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students will be deterred from taking classes with those professors, including Meriwether, and many will do all they can to stay silent and avoid being called on in class.
When you are being discriminated against by a professor, the professor is conveying that you and your presence in the class—including your opinions—do not matter. I would not have participated in class if I didn’t have to in order to do well in Meriwether’s class. Instead, I would have done anything to go unnoticed. And, if that can happen in the classroom, it can happen anywhere on campus.
The 6th Circuit held that the university had a fairly “weak” interest in enforcing its pronoun policy against Prof. Meriwether, while finding that the professor had a strong interest in misgendering you because pronouns constitute “matters of public concern.” What do you think of this analysis?
The pronouns and honorifics professor Meriwether used to refer to me in class are not a “matter of public concern.” The sole purpose of those pronouns and honorifics is to call on me to answer a question or refer to a comment that I made. To the extent those words could carry any other message, it was a message about me and improperly disclosed to my peers that I am transgender, private information I first shared with Meriwether as part of my Title IX complaint to Shawnee. Converting those words, and the meaning professor Meriwether believed those words conveyed, into a statement on “matters of public concern” gives professors and other school personnel an unrestricted license to discriminate against students on any number of bases from race to religion.