MANAGING NEWS EDITOR
Sophomore Nat Veiga was relieved to be stuck in an office grading papers on a Monday night. At least there, Veiga could feel safe and secure.
Following the slew of anti-trans comments made by senior Breitbart News editor and right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos during his “Dangerous F—-t” tour’s stop in Mitchell Hall on Monday night, members of the student body reported feeling unsafe on university grounds.
“I felt anxious and scared,” Veiga, a women and gender studies major, said. “For the first time ever, I actually feared for my life, which was a new experience for me. Every time I would hear a sound, I would look over my shoulder. It was terrifying.”
To counter these tensions, on Wednesday afternoon, students stood in solidarity on The Green with the university’s transgender community to peacefully protest the aftermath of Monday night’s events and promote transgender education and inclusion.
From 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., allies and members of the transgender community stood outside of Mitchell, the very same place Yiannopoulos spoke, carrying signs and banners both denouncing hate speech and advocating for a safe and communicative campus environment in an attempt to reassure the transgender community’s acceptance and safety on campus.
Yiannopoulos, who has been frequently criticized for his contentious remarks on a myriad of social and political issues, centered his talk on his opposition to transgenderism, calling it a “mental disorder.”
“They are deeply mentally damaged,” he said. “And they are failed by a liberal establishment obsessed with making them feel good about themselves.”
On the morning of Yiannopoulos’ event, there were numerous reported sightings of fliers with transphobic slurs around campus. Among them was a headshot of first lady Michelle Obama bearing the phrase, “T——s are Gay” over her face in bold, capitalized lettering.
This prompted the Newark Police Department (NPD) to instruct UDPD officers to remove them from city grounds, along with the signs that were already being stripped from campus property.
Sophomore art major T. J. White noticed the fliers and decided something needed to be done. He organized the “Trans Students in Solidarity” gathering overnight with the help of several close friends.
“We needed something immediately in order to heal,” White said. “This has been affecting our ability to do our schoolwork so we needed to do something about it before being able to get back to being students.”
More than Yiannopoulos’ rhetoric, White said he was distraught by how certain community members responded to the posters, which were later distributed at the end of Yiannopoulos’ presentation.
“It hurts me more to know that even though they were taken down, they were passed out at the event and people were rushing and pushing each other to get copies,” White said. “And that makes me feel really unsafe, that somebody has something like that posted up in their room.”
These feelings of apprehension felt by White, Veiga and many other members of the university’s transgender community, however, were ultimately what inspired the coordination of the “Trans Students in Solidarity” gathering. To rival the offensive fliers that were posted Monday morning, members of the rally posted their own fliers, displaying messages like, “You’re wonderful as you are” and “Trans is beautiful.”
“I guess you could say the posters inspired our own,” White said. “It was kind of a snap decision that I made during a community circle, but honestly, it’s a group effort. It wouldn’t really be as big or as noticed as it is now without everyone here.”
The event was meant to initiate a healing process for the university’s trans students following the wake of Yiannopoulos’ tour — a tour that was recently canceled at both New York University and the University of Maryland for “security concerns.”
It was a crucial step in a long path to making transgender individuals on campus feel safe and welcomed, Veiga said.
“I came to UD because I really thought it was going to be a place that was safe enough for me to be an active student here,” Veiga, a Texas native, said. “I didn’t realize that there were students that held those kinds of views. I didn’t realize that transphobia was so ingrained in some people’s beliefs.”
This sentiment, however, is not one uniquely felt by Veiga.
“I do feel like I have a lot of resources here and a lot of connections and stuff like that, but that doesn’t matter because all of that can be taken away in an instant by somebody who is transphobic,” White said.
On Monday night, White avoided being outside in the open for fear of his own safety.
White said the administration’s apparent complacency and willingness to allow speakers like Yiannopoulos demonstrates a kind of indifference towards the wellbeing of its transgender community.
“As a trans student of color in a gay relationship, it’s kind of a spit in the face to see diversity flags up and posters with the t-slur up all over campus,” he said.
The silence of the administration leading up to Yiannopoulos’ talk has led those who identify as transgender to question not only how they are valued at the university, but also their safety and wellbeing, Veiga said.
“It makes me feel like I’m not given a s–t about,” Veiga said. “I feel like UD is the place for me, but I’m upset that I spent an entire year under the guise of believing that I was safe and accepted, only to find out that I’m not.”
Of the numerous students, faculty members, administrators and UDPD officers who trickled in and out of the rally throughout the day, Athletic Director Christine Rawak, Board of Trustees President John Cochran and President Dennis Assanis were only a few.
“I just want you to know that both myself and my wife value every one of our students here,” Assanis said. “We absolutely condemn bigotry and hate.”
Nevertheless, the question of how the university will move forward from these events remains.
Last fall’s alleged noose scare brought up a similar narrative: one pertaining to the treatment of minority students on campus. To many, the incident revealed a deep divide between students of color and the greater campus community.
And now, nearly a year later, little has been done to bridge that divide.
While some might have found comfort in Assanis’ words, others, such as White and Veiga, expect more from the university’s administrators down the road.
“I’d like to see some action,” White said. “Words are nice, but I want more. I need more.”