One transgender student said he appreciates how open the campus community is, but there are still aspects of campus life that can be improved to help the LGBTQ community.
Rileigh Darby-McClure, cell and molecular biology senior, was born female, but said he knew he was male from the time he was a young child.
“I had a sense that I was different than the other kids around me,” Darby-McClure said. “I didn’t even know there were other people that felt like me until I was in high school, and then it took me a couple of years to come to terms and realize that’s how I wanted to interact with the world.”
He grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which he said was conservative, so he didn’t know anyone else like him until he moved to Oklahoma City.
When Darby-McClure first came to OCU, he chose “female” on his housing form because he said he wasn’t comfortable being out.
During his first semester, Darby-McClure lived in Banning Hall. In his second semester, he lived in Walker Hall. After that, he moved to Cokesbury Court Apartments, where he’s been ever since.
Darby-McClure said Banning Hall was fine because it was co-ed, but Walker Hall was problematic because it was all female.
“A lot of times, when I went in, they would try to ask me for my ID card, which was always really awkward,” he said. “I would usually come in and make a mad dash for the elevator or the stairs and they’d be hollering after me, but I’d just try to ignore them.”
He pursued non-traditional housing one semester because a non-binary student needed a roommate. Non-binary means they didn’t identify as male or female. Darby-McClure asked his roommates if they would be okay with living with them, and they each had to send an email to housing stating their approval. Although both of his roommates said they were okay with it, one moved out after the non-binary student moved in.
“The fact that OCU is such a small school makes it easy to work with the people that are in charge of housing,” he said. “I would definitely feel comfortable going up and asking them.”
The University of Oklahoma in Norman switched to gender-inclusive housing in 2012 to help the LGBTQ community. Darby-McClure said he wishes Cokesbury would be more gender-inclusive. If he were living off campus, he could live with any gender. He said he also wishes all university forms would ask “female,” “male” or “other” with a place to write something in, instead of just giving two options.
Dr. Amy Ayres, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said there is no plan in place to be more gender-inclusive, but officials always work to improve things.
“While no housing policy currently exists in regards to gender-inclusive housing, the university continues to evaluate and assess how we can be more inclusive of all of our students, even beyond housing,” Ayres said. “There will be future conversations and thoughtful considerations as we work toward providing an environment that is the most welcoming and inclusive for all students, regardless of gender identity or any other form of expression.”
Another aspect of campus life Darby-McClure said needs improvment is campus restrooms. He said, when he first came to OCU, there was only one gender-neutral restroom on the first floor of the library. Now there are two more outside the caf in Tom and Brenda McDaniel University Center, but there still aren’t many options.
He said he would like to see a gender-neutral restroom in every building because he finds himself rushing to his apartment or trying to decide how long he can wait to use the bathroom so he won’t be late to classes.
“Bathrooms are a big deal for transgender people because you would get adverse reactions going in either bathroom,” Darby-McClure said. “I get it everywhere I go. It’s not like it’s only on campus. If I go in the women’s restroom, then obviously people are like ‘What is this guy doing in here?’”
He said it’ll take time for people to catch up. He also said there was a Title IX meeting on campus a couple of years ago to discuss how to improve aspects of campus to help LGBTQ students and that helped a lot.
Darby-McClure hasn’t undergone the surgery to transition because he’s on the women’s track team and would lose his scholarship, but said he’s going to look into it after he graduates.
He said he appreciates days on campus like Love Not Hate Day and weeks like Better Together because they promote equality.
People are so afraid to ask about someone’s gender, so they don’t and it makes an elephant in the room, but if people would just ask they would learn a lot from transgender people, Darby-McClure said.
“What happens a lot is most people just assume I’m gay, like a gay female. They think I’m a lesbian, and I know that happened, and still happens, but I’m definitely a guy.
“I went to the east coast for an internship once and what struck me over there is that people actually ask you ‘What pronouns do you prefer?’ And there’s not just he and she. There’s they, their, ze, zir, there are a lot of pronouns people might prefer. People here, it sometimes doesn’t seem like they’re there yet or they don’t feel comfortable asking yet.”