Earlier this month, Rensselaer hosted a screening of an episode of the Golden Globe Award-winning television program Transparent, followed by an interactive Q&A panel discussion focused on exploring transgender identity and social issues. The panel included the program’s co-producers, Rhys Ernst and Zackery Drucker, along with Rensselaer and University at Albany faculty, staff, and student members. The program was held on April 9 in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Theater.
“Stigma and discrimination toward trans individuals is still very problematic in our society today,” said Tara Schuster, coordinator of health promotion in the Student Health Center. “By hosting this event and providing a platform to discuss issues of gender identity, it is the hope of the RPI LGBTQ Task Force to raise awareness about this topic, and continue to improve the campus climate for our trans students. Trans is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum. Our goal is to ensure all campus community members that their personal identity and expression of that identity is respected.”
The RPI LGBTQ Task Force—comprised of students, staff, and faculty—was created and charged in the spring of 2012 with supporting and improving the campus climate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) community. Since its inception, members have been focused on ensuring that all students at Rensselaer have the right to safety and the expectation of safety in their personal identity and the expression of that identity, whatever it may be, within the bounds of both the law and mutual respect for the differences of all members of the Institute.
Chris VerWys, a lecturer in the Rensselaer Department of Cognitive Science, served as the event emcee. VerWys has been part of the Rensselaer campus community since 1998, and has regularly discussed LGBT issues within the contexts of Personality Theory and Social Psychology courses.
The panelists included: Zackary Drucker, a producer on Transparent. An artist and cultural producer, her work breaks down the way we think about gender, sexuality, and ways of seeing; Rhys Ernst, a producer on Transparent who created the title sequence for the series. He is a filmmaker and artist who works across various forms and modalities to investigate transgender identity, masculinity, and the intersection of gender and narrative construction; Sami Schalk, an assistant professor of English at the University at Albany. She earned her Ph.D. in gender studies at Indiana University and her MFA in creative writing at the University of Notre Dame. Schalk’s research focuses on race, gender, and disability in contemporary literature; Courtney D’Allaird, assistant director of the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement at the University at Albany, and founding coordinator of the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at UAlbany, who has done extensive work with college campuses across New York state in order to expand initiatives for LGBTQ student inclusion; and Jackson Harmon, a fourth-year industrial engineer and sustainability major at Rensselaer, a passionate inventor, as well as an outspoken trans rights activist, and founder of TRANS, a group for assistance and networking with other trans and questioning individuals at Rensselaer.
The event was co-sponsored by the Rensselaer Union, Department of Athletics, Student Health Center, Residence Life, and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS).