Students Organizing at the University of Louisville for Trans Rights in ULTRA

by Belle Townsend

The University of Louisville Trans Rights Alliance, or ULTRA, has been bringing attention to policy and culture promoting transphobia on the college campus. The student organizers leading this group include juniors Miles Lanham and Calvin Silver, with senior Parker Albro.

According to University of Louisville students and activists associated with ULTRA, there have been lasting issues with housing for students who are gender non-conforming or transgender. According to Calvin Silver, a junior political science major who works in the library and school food pantry, “The main issue with housing is the binary structure, which makes it a struggle for non-binary and trans folks to find housing that comfortably aligns with their gender.” Calvin and other students designated a gender different from their assigned gender at birth on their housing paperwork, and their choice was not honored by U of L housing. 

If students are not comfortable with their housing designation, they can change it. However, it is a “drawn out process” to do so according to the students. According to ULTRA, housing at U of L has made it clear that this is due to “not wanting to make people uncomfortable.” Parker Albro made it clear that “this prioritizes cis comfort over trans comfort.” Thus, the culture created is one that implies trans existence as uncomfortable to exist around. 

There is a queer living and learning community available for students at U of L, and U of L housing has a habit of recommending that trans and gender non-conforming students live here because it is “safer.” This effectively points out and differentiates those students who are deviating from the gender norm, which again creates a culture that trans existence is not normal. Many trans students do not wish to live in these quarters, including Calvin. He said, “for some people, this is a genuine and good living experience they need, but it was not what I wanted.”

Many other LGBTQ+ students, namely trans, came forward to ULTRA with complaints of the housing process being uncomfortable, demeaning, and flat out weird. Students have organized a meeting with housing higher ups to hopefully create some changes to the system and overall culture. 

Students from ULTRA came together to do a chalk protest against transphobic happenings in a frat, and the chalk was washed away despite other chalk being unwashed and remaining. This was when Parker started the ULTRA Instagram to highlight their message’s erasure, and ultimately the students continued to organize through chalking as protesting. U of L police have gotten involved multiple times, assumedly called by higher ups, theoretically Michael Mardis or someone from groundskeeping. Miles, one of the student organizers, was sought once by police. Shortly after, students spit on him as he chalked. Police did not get involved for Miles’ protection or that of any other chalking students.

The students recently had over 75 people together for a chalking protest, wherein students ran into Dr. Kim Schatzel, the president of the university. When confronted with the situation, she said she was following the situation and “the social medias.” Schatzel was quoted to say that what ULTRA was doing was good, but that she had not been at U of L long enough to know how housing policy works. She wrapped up with, “I don’t want to make any commitments.”

Among issues with housing, issues with the Student Affairs office arose for many trans students at U of L. Student Affairs and Dean Michael Mardis were also named as being transphobic, with repetitive issues with not letting trans students start clubs due to not yet having a changed birth certificate that matches their preferred name listed in the academic system. 

With all of these issues, ULTRA is continuing to organize for trans rights in housing and administration. As the most LGBTQ+ friendly university in the state of Kentucky, students are calling on U of L to do better for our trans youth. They deserve better, and it’s clear that they are going to fight to get it.