Vassar College's student newspaper is reporting a controversy on campus involving a faculty member who did not use the proper pronouns when speaking about transgendered students.
The student newspaper, The Miscellany News, explains:
On Jan. 31, the VSA [Vassar Student Association Council] endorsed a letter that marked a week’s worth of campus criticism. Days earlier, Dean of Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman announced that the LGBTQ and Women’s Centers would host a faculty fellow after the departure of the Centers’ former director, Judy Jarvis ’07. Pittman named Professor and Chair of the Drama Department Denise Walen as the new face of these community resources until the College finds a new director.
But students reacted to the announcement with "serious concern" because of "many students’ assertion that Walen has a problematic record dealing with transgender students."
One student, M McKee, wrote in an email statement "I (along with at least two other trans drama majors) was disturbed when I heard Professor Walen had been appointed to this position…Throughout the whole semester, she used the wrong pronouns for me, even when corrected by other students."
The article goes on to describe:
"They [McKee] explained an especially excruciating moment during which Walen led a discussion of McKee’s performance as a female character in a play. In their eyes, Walen’s words became invalidating when she emphasized her opinion that the play’s production 'boldly put a male body in a dress' despite the fact that McKee had openly explained that they did not identify as male. As McKee recalled, 'Her comments struck me as deeply transmisogynistic, and I reached a point where I felt neither respected nor safe in her classroom.'"
The open letter was published in the student-run magazine, Boilerplate, and was signed by numerous campus groups. The complaint focuses on "repeated transgendering."
Professor Walen appears to have the proper credentials to be a Vassar professor:
Denise A. Walen is a Professor in the Department of Drama at Vassar College where she has taught since 1996. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Theater from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis with a minor in Feminist Studies from the Center for Advanced Feminist Studies and concentrates her areas of teaching and research on dramatic literature and theory, theater history, and women’s studies. Dr. Walen focuses on early modern drama and has directed Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Aphra Behn’sThe Feigned Courtesans, along with several other productions for the department. She is the author of articles and reviews in Theatre History Studies, Theatre Survey, Theatre Journal, and Shakespeare Quarterly as well as chapters in Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth Century Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and Passing Performances: Queer Readings of Leading Players in American Theatre History (University of Michigan Press, 1998). Dr. Walen also served for several years as Performance Review editor for Theatre Journal and is currently on the editorial board of TRM. She is the author of Constructions of Female Homoeroticism in Early Modern Drama (Palgrave 2005).
The Vassar administration is standing behind the professor's appointment:
While cognizant of this student backlash, [Dean of Campus Life and Diversity Ed] Pittman’s response suggests that the administration will be cautious to embrace radical changes to their decision. As Pittman wrote, “There are certain opportunities for student input, but personnel decisions are made by administrators. When this decision was made we utilized available input and considered the benefits of Professor Walen’s experience as a faculty member and Class Advisor among other factors…I have confidence in Walen’s ability to support all students who see the centers as welcoming and inclusive spaces.”