September 30, 2016

Student protests at diversity conference

Video by Sara Bannoura

Student Yai Nikos protests at the Diversity and Inclusion Conference on March 1. The conference was held as a way to explore diversity.

Student Yai Nikos protests at the Diversity and Inclusion Conference on March 1. The conference was held as a way to explore diversity.

Four minutes after transgender guest Julia Serano began speaking at Webster’s Diversity and Inclusion conference, Yai Nikos, a Webster student who also identifies as transgender, interrupted Serano’s speech.

Nikos, a member of Webster’s Association of African American Collegians (AAAC), posted on Facebook earlier in the day that Yai would protest the event due to the absence of a black speaker for the Gender Entitlement topic. Nikos stood by the podium holding a sign stating “Black Trans Voices Matter.”

Serano, an American writer and activist, acknowledged Nikos’ presence and gave her the chance to speak.

“This whole event should be centered around the voices of oppressed students,” Nikos said. “We’re talking about trans issues – there are black trans students on campus. Our voices matter.”

According to Webster’s website, the university hosted the Diversity and Inclusion Conference to explore ways to move forward on the path of equality and valuing the diversity of the community.

After a member of the audience asked Nikos to give the speaker a chance to talk, Nikos sat next to Nicole Roach, the Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion on campus. By the time other AAAC members showed up, Nikos was heading outside with Roach where the two talked and agreed on future collaborations.

Serano had to shorten her speech to accommodate the interruption. She ended by asking students to share their experiences when Nikos stepped back in and took the microphone.

Nikos said it was problematic that members from the audience asked her to sit down while trying to confront and engage a person who is supposed to be a trans-bi activist on how race, class and power influence the way we think about gender.

Nikos said the university cannot have a discussion about gender in isolation to the three elements of race, class and power.

“That is antithetical to any kind of movement or any kind of theory about gender,” Nikos said. “It’s called intersectionality.”

Nikos said the administration should reach out to students and explore their needs.

“[The students] would have had someone who knows about intersectionality,” Nikos said. “We would have someone who would’ve stood up for me. And not allow someone to tell me to sit down and misgender me and be complicit to that kind of violence.”

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