The weekly meeting of Stanford’s Graduate Student Council (GSC) was dominated by intense debate about the wording of a “Resolution in Solidarity with Trans, Intersex, and Non-Binary Students.” The bill was ultimately approved after a five-minute recess to review the bill, prolonged debate on the floor, three suggested amendments (none of which were approved) and two separate votes.
The bill, which will also be put to a vote before the Undergraduate Senate on Tuesday, expresses its support for trans, intersex and non-binary students through nine pledges.
One pledge reads, “We [the GSC] commend trans, intersex, and/or non-binary people who live, question, accept, challenge, love, celebrate, and/or fight for their identities at the face of gender binarism and erasure.”
“We [the GSC] are committed to gender inclusivity by using students’ desired names and pronouns,” reads another.
The bill also contains a preamble comprised of nine “whereas” clauses.
The fourth such clause, “WHEREAS historically, the field of genetics has been used to justify violence, oppression, and marginalization of people,” became the subject of extended discussion due to its implications for genetics and science.
GSC Diversity & Advocacy Committee (DAC) co-chair Ana Tarano, who authored the bill, was not present to discuss it at Wednesday’s meeting.
Electrical engineering Ph.D. candidate Ricardo Peterson M.S. ’17 suggested a modification: changing the word “used” to “abused” or “manipulated” and adding a phase like “in the past.”
“I just think [those words are] more on point to what [the bill] is trying to say, that’s all,” he said.
His proposal was met with pushback by GSC co-chair and cancer biology Ph.D. candidate Amy Tarangelo and biophysics Ph.D. candidate Melanie Malinas.
“It seems like we’re, in some way, excusing, or denying or removing some culpability,” Tarangelo said.
Malinas agreed, saying that even today there are scientists who conduct science that “could be considered detrimental to trans people.”
In response, Peterson expressed concern for the implications of the clause on scientists, who he said conduct their work “just honestly, not trying to do it to smear anything or marginalize, or to oppress [trans people].”
“If this vote is an acknowledgement that what [such scientists] are doing is effectively bad and oppressive, I can’t vote in favor of that,” he added.
ASSU Vice President and Graduate School of Education Ph.D. candidate Rosie Nelson, who is not a member of the GSC, said all areas of research have the potential to be misused.
“Fields of study are used in a lot of ways,” she said. “Some are good; some are bad. I don’t feel like the way that this bill is written, it’s saying all of genetics is horrible. I think what it’s saying is that in this case, it’s being used to justify something that’s wrong.”
In the past, she added, “genetics has been used to justify a lot of wrong in the United States.”
Malinas questioned the status of different disciplines.
“I don’t think that all scientific research, or all research in general, is created equal,” she said.
She referenced eugenics, which “was considered a great field of study in the 1930s,” adding that “maybe we shouldn’t all treat all scientific research like it’s all inherently good.”
To clarify, Tarangelo discussed the relation of science to the issue of gender identity itself.
“We know genetically, that the majority of people that identify as women have an XX karyotype and the majority of people that identify as male have an XY karyotype,” she said. “And that’s been used by a lot of people to say, ‘OK, so XX equals woman — and XY equals male.’ But in reality, science doesn’t support a gender binary in that way because there are so many different types of karyotypes you can have.”
Yiqing Ding, GSC co-chair and aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D candidate, proposed the Council add in language expressing support for “honest” researchers, in addition to changing “used” to “abused.”
Tarangelo also suggested an amendment — one that would emphasize that scientific findings had been used to oppress others — but then retracted it.
Abstention and Berkeley
Peterson voiced his dilemma, saying that he wanted to support the transgender community and agreed with the bill “mostly,” but took issue with its treatment of science.
“I really don’t want to abstain from this because there’s been examples of what can happen when you abstain from something like this, at Berkeley last week,” he said.
Last week, a Berkeley senator abstained from voting on a bill nearly identical to Tarano’s, saying that as a Christian, she believes that “certain acts and lifestyles conflict with what is good, right and true.” Over a thousand people have signed a petition demanding that she step down from her position or face a recall.
“Ricardo, I don’t think anybody is going to criticize you if you abstain because of that one thing,” Malinas said. “The reason people got upset is because she said bigoted things about the trans community.”
Peterson interjected, “She said something that was absolutely expected from someone who is religious.”
The bill — excluding its contentious fourth clause on genetics — was approved by a vote of 11 in favor and none opposed. There was one abstention, by microbiology and immunology Ph.D student and former GSC chair Terence Theisen, a proxy for Division of Literature, Cultures and Language Ph.D Gabby Badica.
“I just hadn’t talked to Gabby, so I didn’t know — or, Gabby didn’t indicate how she wanted me to vote,” Theisen said.
However, Badica wrote in an email to The Daily that she intended for Theisen to vote in favor of the bill. She shared with The Daily an email to Theisen, timestamped for 3:34 p.m. on Wednesday, in which she requested he vote ‘yes’ for her. In the meeting minutes, Peterson noted that Badica intended to vote in favor of the bill.
“In this GSC meeting, Terence ([Gabby’s] proxy) defaulted to a standard course of abstaining from all votes without direct instructions,” Peterson wrote. “However, earlier in the day, Gabby clearly specified via email that she would vote in favor of every Bill and VSO funding on the agenda, which Terence did not read prior to the meeting.”
The fourth clause was then approved in a second vote. It passed with seven votes in favor. Five councilmembers abstained, including Peterson and Ding.
Tarangelo provided brief updates on her progress in planning a town hall centered around affordability and in working with the Diversity & Advocacy Committee to form a working ground dedicated to mental health and wellbeing.
Social Co-chair Rui Liu provided brief updates on preparation for GSC’s Thanksgiving Dinner and a “Welcome Back” party.
The council passed a bill allocating $11,675 for programming for graduate students with families. The Council also approved funding requests from Women in Earth Sciences, the Stanford Black Bioscience Organization, Dutch at Stanford, Stanford Advanced Degree Consulting and Scandinavians at Stanford.
This post has been updated to reflect that GSC member Gabby Badica intended for her proxy Terence Theisen to vote ‘yes’ on the “Resolution in Solidarity with Trans, Intersex, and Non-Binary Students.”
Contact Charlie Curnin at ccurnin ‘at’ stanford.edu.