SUNY Geneseo trans students react to sociology professor’s transphobic quiz
‘I am disappointed and shocked that such blatant transphobia occurred in a lecture on our campus which claims to so highly value diversity and inclusivity’
Last week, a sociology professor at SUNY Geneseo instructed his students to complete an ungraded quiz titled “Female or Shemale: Can you tell?”
Professor David Sorbello displayed various pictures of women on a projector screen and asked his class to determine if each one showed a cis woman or a trans woman.
“Don’t get too drunk or you might go home with the wrong one,” he joked.
A friend of mine sitting in the classroom texted me what was happening and asked for help. Outraged by the transphobic quiz, I ran over to the lecture to confront Professor Sorbello. When I explained that he was belittling the trans community and invalidating their existence, he asked me what I’d like him to do. I suggested he apologize and teach the class proper material. He didn’t agree.
When word about Sorbello’s quiz went viral, students were outraged and reporters hounded my friend in the classroom and me for the inside scoop on the story. Although I’m glad the injustice was getting coverage, not one of the articles asked the trans community at Geneseo how they felt about the incident.
I never thought something like this would happen at my small liberal arts college, but it just goes to show how there is still so much discrimination and transphobia that people who are transgender and non-binary face.
My hope is that from this, cis people could only attempt to imagine how a transgender student may have felt sitting in that class, during that lecture.
As a trans woman, the actions of this professor greatly upsets me. I do not believe that his transphobic actions reflect Geneseo as a whole, yet last week’s actions do not surprise me. Geneseo needs to make an even greater point than they already do to provide an inclusive space, such as mandatory sensitivity training for faculty and staff. I was especially hurt by this professor’s teachings because essentially, his lesson was that trans women are tricksters and valued less than cisgender women. When Sorbello said, “So this is a lesson to you all not to get too drunk or you might take the wrong one home,” this means that apparently I am the wrong one, a ridiculous, false, and hateful statement by a man clearly uneducated on the LGBT community.
I think it’s pretty disheartening that we’ve had to wait for a situation of this type of magnitude in order to get our voices heard. Everyone’s response to Sorbello is just an elevated reaction to what trans students deal with on a day to day basis; inappropriate comments from professors, lessons with inaccurate information about trans and queer identities. Many LGBTQ students have been asking for mandatory safe training for years. I think it stands to question what are we waiting for? For those that are downplaying Sorbello’s presentation, what would be inappropriate behavior? Would Sorbello had to have specifically called out a trans student in the class room and directly said those things to them? In my eyes, a teacher is supposed to make an uncomfortable or new topic comfortable, and Sorbello made it uncomfortable for all of those involved. He made it uncomfortable for trans students and allies, and he made students uncomfortable with trans people more uncomfortable with trans people.
It’s only with the media and talk that’s going on right now that students finally have the power to make changes. But as someone who is training to facilitate safe trainings, I know that even if we were to get safe training we would not have the funds or ability to train all staff. Safe zone trainings are run by student and faculty volunteers. In addition to this, safe zone training is not a quick fix, it is not the end all be all. What we need are more recourses for LGBTQ students, a full time position for our LGBTQ coordinator, AND mandatory safe zone training. But even then, there is a question of how effective safe zone training would be to someone like Sorbello.
Not only as a Geneseo alum, but as a non-binary, transgender, queer person and activist I must call for his immediate removal from the University. Any tolerance for this behavior is an act of violence against me and people like myself. Trans people are not a toy or token to be waved around and torn apart.
I am disappointed and shocked that such blatant transphobia occurred in a lecture on our campus which claims to so highly value diversity and inclusivity. As an openly transgender student, I fear the implications of fostering those kinds of attitudes for the safety of myself, and even more so other members of my community. However, most of all, I am heartened by the outpouring of responses from the student body reaffirming their support of the transgender members of our community. The campus response has made me feel affirmed in my identity and proud to be a Geneseo student.
Three years ago, us trans students at Geneseo demanded the administration accomplish seven things to make Geneseo a safer place for trans students. How have they done?
Hire an LGBT+ resource staff member. The administration hired someone, but despite pressure from Pride Alliance and other queer students the position has not been made a full-time position.
Create gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms around campus. There have been huge strides on this which is awesome!
Provide sensitivity training for all staff (including resident assistants) on LGBT issues. Clearly we have a ways to go here. Maybe we wouldn’t have had the recent incident if this had been done.
Push for coverage of transition-related medical expenses in employee and student health insurance.This has been partially addressed by the state government requiring insurance plans cover transition related costs.
Expand gender-inclusive housing. From my understanding, there has been very slow progress.
Work to make changing name and gender on school records quick and easy. Another thing the school has done really well!
Be strict on LGBTQ+ harassment We will see in the near future how well the administration is able to follow through on this point. Their action in regards to David Sorbello will show how serious they are.
In cases like these, we see why it is so important to have safe zone and sensitivity training. A trans women is a women, not a “shemale.” This was a horrible way to open up a lesson. There is no excuse for this. Sorbello needs to apologize for his actions and he needs to face consequences.