During her 15 years at Whittier College, Dr. Ann Kakaliouras has seen a lot of change in its environment. She remembers when she came to the College in 2006; it was not as progressive as it is now. One thing she is glad to see in general is the growing awareness in academia of people’s pronouns. Even five years ago, it seems hardly anyone considered them. Nowadays, there are still instances of ignorance, but she concluded that naivete is at least an improvement from the outward hostility that non-binary people faced on campus a decade ago. One of the courses Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Kakaliouras, teaches is Sex and Gender Anthropology, which she is happy to say has received an increased interest. She sees this as a sign of progress, as it may symbolize a growing awareness of different identities. In January 2021, Dr. Kakaliouras will begin working in an additional role at Whittier College — as its first Gender Equity Coordinator.
Last academic year, Dr. Kakaliouras was a part of Bruce Smith’s Gender Equity Task Force, which studied the possibility of a Gender Equity Center on Whittier College’s campus, as well as evaluating the climate survey for student’s gender experiences. Among her other qualifications, Dr. Kakaliouras serves as the faculty advisor for TOBGLAD, and has been on and off the College’s Title IX Committee since 2013. She is also a trained support person, a role where upon request, a staff or faculty member accompanies the complainant or responding party through Title IX proceedings. They also provide individuals with emotional support, access to resources, and advising. Dr. Kakaliouras also specifically undertook training as a Title IX investigator in 2016; since then, she has conducted a few investigations of faculty and students.
Dr. Kakaliouras’s new role as Gender Equity Coordinator, she explained, is distinctly different from her previous position on the Title IX Committee. “I won’t be sitting down with students [or faculty] talking to them about Title IX issues. It will be more about educating the campus about different aspects of gender equity. Whether it’s basic sexism, which still stubbornly exists, to issues that trans and gender-nonconforming people bring to the table, because we actually have a nice and large population of gender-nonconforming folks on campus — mostly students, but also faculty and staff.”
She went on to mention her own status as a gender non-binary individual. “As a campus, we have not necessarily taken a systematic look at what we can do better or what we can do more of in terms of our gender equity issues,” she also noted.
Dr. Kakaliouras shared some of the concerns that she has heard from people on campus that she is hoping to address. “In terms of the campus climate, there are still issues of what we would call Title IX violations — so, people who are ‘victimizing’ other people. We also have more basic issues, like faculty who could use some education about gender awareness in the classroom, and that comes to calling on female-identified people versus male-identified people, or trans and non-binary students, what their voice can be in how faculty treat them.”
Another issue that comes up very often is people being misgendered in the classroom. Those who have not gone through the experience of being trans may not understand how truly harmful having your gender identity not acknowledged can be. Dr. Kakaliouras shared her perspective. “I think, in general, the campus has a bit of catching up to do with how people are using pronouns and the kind of valid self-expression that using your pronouns and respect for your pronouns gives. I’ve heard a number of instances where someone gets misgendered through pronouns on campus, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it really is a big deal.”
Dr. Kakaliouras added, “It’s not to say that people aren’t resilient. So many people are resilient, but do we really want to be perpetuating practices that discourage gender equity? I don’t think so. I’ve been misgendered my entire life for one reason or another just because of my presentation. Especially now that I wear a mask at the grocery store — but what am I doing? I can’t do anything about that, but we [at Whittier College] are in a place that is small enough and is resourceful enough, we should be able to do something about that for our students, faculty, and staff.”
Whittier College’s attempts to promote gender equity did not start just last year or with the creation of the Gender Equity Task Force. However, this renewed effort will hopefully drive progress further. The College previously had a Transgender Task Force, but a majority of what they did included making gender neutral bathrooms available and addressing how students could use their names instead of their deadnames. While students are now able to go to the Registrar and have their names changed on Moodle, that change will not be reflected in the rest of the banner system. This means, when they are sent automated mail, it will have their birth name printed on it rather than the name they actually use. This issue can be highly disruptive for trans students, particularly when using their birth name is misgendering them.
Dr. Kakaliouras and her partner are both from Minneapolis, Minn., and all of their family still lives there. George Floyd was murdered in the neighborhood where her partner grew up. It is always horrifying to see acts of injustice by law officials, but Dr. Kakaliouras was not shocked, as she has seen the pattern of misconduct from the Minn. police before. In the early ‘90s, Dr. Kakaliouras was attending Hamline University working towards her B.A. in Anthropology and living in Saint Paul. She recalled the incident in 1993 where Officer Michael Lardy and Officer Marvin Schumer forced Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney into the trunk of their squad car. The two men had reportedly been intoxicated and were unconscious in front of an apartment building. They were then forced by the officers into the trunk of the vehicle; in the process, the trunk was closed on Lone Eagle’s leg, breaking it.
“With the kind of summer that we have all had, it really is time to start looking at issues of equity — not just saying that we’re interested in equity, but that, as a campus, we are actually going to move forward, whether it is racial, ethnic, sexuality, or gender. And also for men — like, what is it like to be a man in 2020?” Possibly because of her background in anthropology, Dr. Kakaliouras is very cognizant of her own identity as a White, gender-nonconforming individual, of a certain age group, and how her lived experience may differ from others. She shared, “I am a White person, as you can tell, so I’m not bringing the bodily experience of being a person of color in my gender. So of course I am going to want and need feedback from students and staff who are non-White about their experiences vis-à-vis gender and how it cross-cuts race and ethnicity.”
Having watched Whittier College evolve over the past 15 years, Dr. Kakaliouras has seen the institution become more progressive, more diverse, and more accommodating. However, she recognizes that the College still has a lot of improvements to make in order to become a safer environment where students, faculty, and staff feel comfortable expressing their identities and know that they will be respected and validated. In her new position as Gender Equity Coordinator, Dr. Kakaliouras will hopefully be able to help cultivate that new environment.