A Central Washington University student is transferring to Western in fall 2018 after his experience with the lack of inclusivity on Central’s campus.
Freshman Aiden Ochoa said he came out as transgender in high school. When he arrived at Central to study English and sociology, he kept his identity a secret.
While Ochoa didn’t have to worry about peers poking fun at him, he was still fearful of revealing his identity, he said. At times, he felt he couldn’t even defend those his peers were making fun of.
“I’m from the west side [of the state], and I’d never seen a Confederate flag before, until I got [to Central],” Ochoa said. “And I saw one, and I was like ‘wow,’ and I got here and there were a lot of white people saying the ‘n’ word with a hard ‘r.’”
When Ochoa did come out as transgender at Central, people were not generally welcoming, he said. His dorm walls were thin and he could hear his roommate making transphobic comments. He was misgendered constantly.
Through his friends, Ochoa saw snapchats of Western’s campus, he said. He saw trans and rainbow flags and felt the campus would be a more embracing place for diverse identities, he said.
When Ochoa visited Western’s campus, he said the community immediately felt more like his home of Auburn, Washington.
Ochoa said he was happy to see LGBTQ+ people open about their identity walking through Western.
“There’s LGBTQ people [at Central], but they’re hidden,” Ochoa said.
Stories like this are not uncommon, Crow Chloupek, Western Associate Students Queer Resource Center’s co-education coordinator, said. Western has many resources for students worried about being outcasted.
“I come from Texas,” Chloupek said. “I come from a place that was just never inclusive toward my gender and my sexuality, and it’s really imperative to make sure to the best of my ability that no queer person has to go through what I went through.”
“I feel like I almost have this internal duty to make as many queer and trans folk as comfortable and to feel as ‘in’ as they can,” they said.
The AS Queer Resource Center plans events to create cohesion with the community, Chloupek said. An ice cream social at the start of the year is a good place for students to meet others in the LGBTQ+ community, they said.
Western has a lot of faculty and staff who make sure trans and gender non-conforming students are heard, Chloupek said.
Central has an organization called Equality through Queers and Allies, but they aren’t available to students all the time, Ochoa said.
They are run by a six-person, all-white staff who aren’t representative of Central’s LGBTQ+ community, he said.
Outside of Central’s pride week, the organization hosts very few events that even fewer people attend, Ochoa said.
While awareness surrounding gender fluidity may be a part of Western’s culture, there is plenty of space for improvement, senior Olivia Hall said.
“We have these gender-neutral bathrooms, and I think that’s really inclusive of our campus, but I think that was student-led,” Hall said. “Those were brought by students and WWU listened, but they didn’t take action for themselves.”
The best thing students can do to make their school aware of these issues is to reach out to staff and faculty with these concerns, Chloupek said.
Students should join queer clubs to create offices to support the LGBTQ+ community, they said. Doing so will bring the existence of other identities to the attention of misinformed students.
“Acknowledgement is the first step toward true liberation,” Chloupek said.
Something that would help raise awareness of these issues would be a diversity workshop that all students are required to take, Hall said. Western’s General University Requirements will not guarantee education around gender fluidity. Depending on a student’s educational track, they may never learn about it, she said.
Ochoa is excited to return to western Washington to continue his education with a bigger and more diverse population, he said.
“I just plan on showing up and hoping for the best,” he said.
A request for comment was not returned by Central’s Equality through Queers and Allies.