On Monday, Feb. 17, Vassar’s annual All College Day kicked off in the Villard Room with a keynote address by trans woman activist and author Janet Mock.
“The Campus Life Resource Group (CLRG), which is comprised of students and administrators, brainstormed a number of possible keynote speakers, and we ended up thinking Janet Mock was a fantastic fit with our themes of ‘(Un)silencing Voices,’” said Director of Campus Life LGBTQ and Women’s Centers Judy Jarvis.
Jarvis continued, “As a trans woman of color, writer and activist, Janet’s career has been about giving voice to stories and identities that are often silenced, ignored, trivialized or made two-dimensional. The perspective she will share will no doubt be valuable for the Vassar community to learn from.”
Mock became well-known after a 2011 Marie Claire magazine article in which she came out as trans. In 2012 she created “#GirlsLikeUs,” a hashtag other trans women could use on social media. She is also aligned with fellow trans women of color Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black” and Isis King of “America’s Next Top Model.”
Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Edward Pittman helped to organize All College Day. Of the talk, he said, “The Janet Mock lecture evolved from a long list of speakers suggested by student members and others within CLRG. We knew that we wanted someone who could draw a large audience and Mock certainly did that.”
“We began our planning in October and learned of Janet Mock’s work as a writer and social justice advocate within trans communities as well as her organizing around race and gender,” Pittman went on, “Those involvements resonated with the aims that CLRG has for creating more spaces for discourse across these communities.”
Mock’s lecture was the start of All College Day, a series of discussions relating to campus climate brought to Vassar by the Campus Life Resource Group. This year’s theme was “(Un)silencing Voices.”
Pittman said of the annual event, “All College Day seeks to create more spaces for voice and open dialogue. Janet Mock’s lecture did that excellently. Her pre-lecture reception was well attended as well, allowing many students to connect with her message.”
“I’ve been really excited for the lecture since I found out it was happening,” said Maggie Jeffers ’16, “I haven’t read her memoir yet, but I found out about her online—I saw her in a picture next to Laverne Cox and looked her up from there.”
“The lecture lived up to my expectations, exceeded them actually,” Jeffers continued, “I found her talk really enlightening about past trans activists but also about what’s going on currently… She must’ve faced so much as a trans woman of color but I get the impression that that’s only made her a stronger person. I think that’s especially important for people like her to see, and an important message for All College Day here.”
Drury McAlarney ’16 said, “To be honest, I was not familiar with Mock’s work before I attended the lecture. I knew about the Piers Morgan interview, but that’s about it.”
“I didn’t really know what to expect from it,” McAlarney went on, explaining, “I didn’t know if it was going to be a workshop on how to be an ally, or Mock talking about the oppressions she faced.”
Mock’s lecture began with a presentation focusing on early trans women of color activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. She explained that neither of them was ever asked to make a keynote address. She then read a passage from her memoir about when she was living in Hawaii as a young trans girl.
After Mock ended the lecture she answered questions, including how to be a good trans* ally, how she remains positive and how she felt after the Piers Morgan interview. Mock then held a book signing for her memoir.
“I’m so grateful that she talked about trans women activists in the 70s,” said McAlarney. “I didn’t know how ignorant I actually was about trans history, especially as someone who wants to be versed in the history of LGBTQ liberation in the United States.”
“I think Janet Mock and other trans women of color in the mainstream media really have an ability to change people’s perceptions about trans people—and women of color in general, too,” Jeffers echoed.
McAlarney concluded, “Her talk opened everyone up for further discussion about these issues. I think at Vassar people assume we don’t need to, or we have everything figured out, and that just isn’t true at all. I think it was a great lecture in itself but also a great start to All College day and hopefully further discussion.”