Safe Zone hosted a chat on Tuesday, Feb. 5 in order to spark conversations regarding issues and relaying information about the intersex community, which is when a person might be appearing to be female on the outside, but they have male anatomy on the inside and vice versa.
Former SIUE faculty member Georgiann Davis skyped in from Las Vegas, Nev., to answer some questions to the participants who came to the event. She also gave out handouts regarding intersex such as brief guidelines for intersex allies, how to be a good ally and what it’s like to be intersex.
Participants were able to ask Davis questions about the intersex community and what we can do as SIUE students and faculty to make the campus as inclusive and comfortable for intersex people as possible.
Jamie Matthews, assistant director of the Morris University Center and Safe Zone co-chair, said these Safe Zone Chats are held to discuss issues and to bring about awareness within the LGBT community.
“It was part of our series,” Matthews said. “It takes a look at a different topic of the LGBT community. Last year, we had an interest in discussing intersex because it is not commonly known, so the purpose was to bring awareness and provide education.”
Matthews said the goal of Safe Zone Chats is to bring education on how to keep the university inclusive.
“I think it is important to make sure we keep it a priority and to continue learning,” Matthews said. “We want to be as inclusive as possible.”
Vicky Dean, assistant director of Housing and former Safe Zone chair, said the Safe Zone Chat was successful and helped shed light to a topic of intersex that is under-discussed.
“I think it went really well,” Dean said. “I know Georgiann, and I was lucky to work with her in the past and some of the information that was provided wasn’t brand new to me, but the two handouts we received gave constructive suggestions representing intersex, so I really appreciated that.”
Associate Director for Residence Life Rex Jackson said the meeting was very educational and having Georgiann Davis speak helped shed light on the intersex community.
“I think it went very well,” Jackson said. “Georgiann is a former faculty member, and she was involved in Safe Zone, and I was very familiar with her work, so when we got the suggestions through feedback through previous training, I knew she would be the best person to reach out to because she’s transparent, she’s honest and I think she could talk about a spectrum of things with the intersex community.”
With this Safe Zone Chat, Jackson said they decided to have a conversation regarding intersex because of the feedback that have previously received.
“With any Safe Chat, it is designed to take a more in-depth look at a narrow topic in the LGBT community than we typically do when we are doing our Safe Zone training,” Jackson said. “We came to want to do an intersex Safe Chat through feedback we heard, and we knew faculty, staff and students who went through Safe Zone training have often asked about learning about the intersex community.”
“Safe Chats are all about utilizing different formats, but it is to delve deeper,” Jackson said. “Sometimes we [have] done it with a PowerPoint presentation, but we reached out to try to expand the knowledge base folks across the country like we did with Dr. Davis to make sure we are bringing expertise back to our campus especially with communities that we don’t have experts on campus.”
Jackson said he took a lot away from the chat and from Georgiann Davis during event.
“I have always learned a lot from Georgiann,” Jackson said. “When she left SIUE, there was an ongoing debate about how they are going to label the community so it is really interesting to see how that has played out over the years in terms of how doctors are hijacking and trying to push back on things so for me that was new.”
Even though Jackson felt he took something away from the information he received from Georgiann Davis, Jackson said he felt the counselors who also came took something away as well.
“I also felt like the counselors who were here picked up something to better serve any intersex student that should come utilize our services,” Jackson said.
Jackson said with the Safe Zone Chats, it is crucial that as college students, we have these conversations as soon as possible.
“I think it is important that we have these conversations because if we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it,” Jackson said. “In terms of college students, this is a great time to explore, try new things whether it is a student organization or set of ideas or valueshis is the perfect time to do it.”
Jackson also said it is important to have these discussions because usually once you graduate, you are focused solely on your job that you do not have the time, or even the opportunity, to discuss the intersex community.
“Often times when we grow up and leave college and you are no longer in [an] academic setting, you are mostly focused on your job,” Jackson said. “You are not going to be an engineer and going to have conversations about the intersex community unless it happens to be a personal connection, so I think this is just the right time to have these grown up conversations.”
Jackson said students have to challenge one another and be willing to be uncomfortable in order to find common ground.
“With these conversations, we can go deeper, and we can challenge each other and we can tackle some very difficult things in a safe environment,” Jackson said. “You may not necessarily agree with everything that I say or I may not agree with you, but we can still learn from each other and create that mutual dialogue, and in the process, get the institution on a track to better serve the students.”
Jackson said although there will not be change in a day, he said as long as there is progress being made, only good can come from that.
“If we do a better job for our transgender students, in my mind as we work for one community, that means we are also working for the others,” Jackson said. “As we work to make sure our campus is more welcoming, for example, to a growing Latino population, that is also going to start conversations of if we overlooked other populations, and I think it just snowballs if we look at all of these students and the faculty and staff and figure out how we do better.”