Systemic struggles, administrative action & stronger allyship in conversation with Ditilekha
Diti (he/they) is a trans masculine person who has been involved with queer, feminist and student movements. Diti is a researcher who looks at academics and activism as informing each other intrinsically, Their work focuses on gender, nationalism, queer politics and inclusive education. They are currently working in Sangat, a Feminist Network. Diti is also doing their PhD on the topic Queer Citizenship and Nationalism.
In this short interview, we pose questions to Diti regarding their experience as a queer college student and the institutional struggles faced by them. In this regard, Diti also touches upon the ways in which allies can be supportive as well as administrative requirements to make college campuses more inclusive. The interview also delves into Diti’s opinion of the UGC Regulations 2015 as a progressive and inclusive legislation.
Q. Those identifying as a part of the LGBTQIA community face varying struggles at universities. In your personal experience, what are some of the systemic struggles that you have observed while in college?
LGBTQI persons are not a homogeneous category. While we face problems because of our gender and sexuality we also face issues for our other locations. Most LGBTQI persons who manage to reach higher education only do so because of the other privileges we enjoy. Queer experiences in higher educational institutions (‘HEI’) are about the everyday efforts of negotiations as it is about the larger incidents of discrimination. It may be not having a toilet that affirms our gender to not seeing our experiences represented in the curriculum. It may be forced to wear a uniform that misgenders us. It is in not having safety mechanisms when being bullied. It maybe not being able to take admission in a hostel or college because we had to run away from home and do not have a permanent address in our application forms. It is when administration refuse to give us admission in our preferred names or use our dead name to refer to us because that is what is in our certificates. It is that queer students have to take the responsibility of explaining and making the campus inclusive while administration takes the credit for given the basic minimum such as one gender neutral washroom. It is when fee hike or cut down of scholarship takes place queer students who have separated from the natal family due to violence get excluded.
The exclusion manifested in these incidental forms will continue as long as the worldview of the University is heteronormative. The truth is while the modern University claims to have moved far away from the centers of education of the European nobility or as in our context the Brahmin men, higher education has traditionally been the domain of the able bodied, sound mind, dominant caste, upper class men, and everyone other than these have been in a sense intruders. Till date we continue to live as intruders and as a place that is not rightfully ours. Hence when there are efforts to make these spaces inclusive, they are merely tokenistic efforts rather than radical reimagination of the education system itself.
Q. Drawing from your experience what do you think support network/groups can do to be more inclusive and supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community?
My experience comes from having spent over 10 years of my life as a student in HEI and working on other research projects in the area. Groups in colleges can try to be good allies and try and provide a space for the queer students. Amplify our voices and demands. At the same time when a cell or group is created by the Institution itself there is little possibility that they would challenge the status quo of the university itself. Students bodies should be autonomous to the Institutions to be able to make for the creation of any inclusive discourse.
Q. What are other measures that administrations can take to be more inclusive?
The most important is that the queer student is not homogeneous. Our needs are also not homogeneous. If we truly want to be inclusive, we need to ensure subsidized education, policies which do not mandate students to be dependent on natal families for fees, permanent address, parental consent, etc. We need to make curriculum and infrastructure inclusive. We need to create constant awareness among not just students but also teaching and non-teaching staff.
Q. The UGC Regulations 2015 recognize and protect queer students, in your opinion, has this helped make colleges more inclusive?
We have made use of the University regulations and the Saksham Report to make the IC of the college more inclusive. Allowing queer students to file sexual harassment complaints. Apart from this we have used the UGC guidelines for WDC to create awareness on campus. Apart from this, the legislations of the country are applicable to HEI as well so we use the NALSA judgment and Transgender Act , 2019 to ensure inclusion of gender non-conforming students. Therefore, we can push HEI to create affirmative policies especially for gender non-conforming students like gender neutral hostels and washrooms, use of preferred names of people, etc.