Written By: Ryan Schwach and Maya Schubert
CUNY has yet to provide an accepting environment to all students, evidenced recently in the number of hurtles transgender students have faced regarding name changes on school IDs and documents.
In mid-October, BC senior and USG senator Nicholas Cevoli was asked to provide his high school diploma to complete his financial aid request. Though startled by the request, he dug up the 20-year-old diploma and sent it to the administration. Before long, the Admissions Office contacted him. The legal name on his diploma did not match his preferred name on CUNYfirst, so the Office requested further identification. Cevoli provided his driver’s license, with his legal name on it, then the office requested even further identification.
“Not only did I explain that I was transgender, and I didn’t have a legal name change, I provided ID with my legal name, and that wasn’t enough,” Cevoli said.
At this point, there was a hold on his account, so he couldn’t register for the spring semester, which was his final semester. In the beginning of November, the Director of Admissions and Recruitment, Nazzerine Charles, called him.
“She said it was my fault that this was happening because of the name I submitted on my application [His preferred name] when I applied to Brooklyn College,” Cevoli said.
The director repeatedly told Cevoli to formally state his legal deadname, and then his preferred name. Cevoli was shaken and taken aback by the director’s tone.
“I know it was loud,” he said, recalling that he felt as if he was in a “mist” as she repeated his deadname. “I know it was belittling, and it got dehumanizing.”
After the phone call, Cevoli and his partner, USS delegate and chair of BC’s LGBT Resource Committee, Kyle Reese, contacted a higher-up within BC’s administration. The administrator spoke to the Admissions director and called Nick to apologize and direct him to the Vice President of Student Affairs, Ron Jackson. Cevoli filed a Title IX report.
In Nov. 2019, Cevoli and other transgender students testified at a City Council meeting for the Committee of Women and Gender Equity. Cevoli submitted a testimony detailing his experience at Queensborough Community College, where he had been harassed repeatedly by faculty and students.
City College student Emilia Decaudin also testified at the November hearing. When attempting to have her name changed on her school ID, Decaudin was told that she needed to provide a legal ID to have the change made; later, she was directed to another office. Eventually, she contacted a friend working within the CCNY Administration, who straightened the issue out.
“I don’t like jumping through hoops, but I have to,” she told the Vanguard. “While I’m grateful I was able to do that, I imagine there must have been folks that wanted to do it that couldn’t.”
Last year’s City Council meeting, which was organized by a number of CUNY faculty, as well as Kyle Reese, did not result in any action for City or University policy. According to Reese, most of the City Council members showed up for a few minutes to listen to testimonies and then left.
“I feel like because of that disconnect between the officials who make those decisions and the rest of the community, it becomes something that kind of goes away until something else happens,” Cevoli said.
“We’ve got some good policy, but we don’t have good procedure,” Reese said of CUNY.
Cevoli feels the same. He transferred to Brooklyn College after his experience at Queensborough, and his experience, apart from last month’s incident with Admissions, has been better.
“The administration took care of the situation really quickly,” he said of his interaction with the Admissions Office. “It’s not the whole college that’s an issue; it’s a few. It’s not Brooklyn as a whole.”
“Our goal is to provide excellent service to the diverse student body that makes up the Brooklyn College family, including, of course, our transgender students,” said Lillian O’Reilly, Vice President for Enrollment Managment and Retention. “I was happy that we were able to help the student in this case. We want to make every experience as positive as possible.”
Since coming to BC, Cevoli has connected with supportive faculty members, and he also appreciates the LGBT Resource Center. He believes CUNY-wide training is key when it comes to the select few who, by bigotry, sloppy training, or a combination of the two, fail to treat people as they should.
“CUNY’s policies are good. It’s the procedures that are not followed,” he said, adding, “It’s the stuff that comes after that. People need to understand what the impact is for students and faculty that experience this kind of discrimination and issues.”
Reese, founder of Brooklyn College’s Queer Student Action Alliance, is insistent that in-depth training for students, staff, and faculty will bring to life the inclusive culture he wants at BC.
“Not just that SPARC shit on Blackboard,” he said. “We have to teach people and help them understand why it’s harmful, why this is wrong, and why we don’t do this. We say, ‘No because I said so,’ to a two year old. Nobody’s a two-year-old. We need to know why. We need some way to draw out empathy when we do it, or nobody’s going to know why.”