Transgender professor joins WRT department after filing discrimination suit against SVSU
First-Year Writing Program instructor says there's "stability" in her life at OU
December 31, 2016
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Professor Charin Davenport just finished her first semester at Oakland University.
“I struggled getting my feet underneath me,” she said. “I spent an awful lot of time navigating OU.”
Just a few short months ago, Davenport was a professor at Saginaw Valley State University. She taught at SVSU from 2007 to 2013. On the surface, her story seems like that of any other professor changing from university to university, finding her perfect fit.
“I kept it on the down low and began hormones again in 2013,” she said. “I came out to my boss, she was a chair of the WGS [women and gender studies] minor program.”
Just after telling her boss that she was transitioning from male to female, Davenport was let go from her position.
“I was told it was for budget reasons,” she said. “It didn’t feel right, but I believed her. I sat on it, didn’t do anything.”
She was diagnosed with kidney cancer only a little while later, and things didn’t look good. It was around this time that she visited SVSU to let her boss know that she was OK.
It was then she realized the reason she was fired.
“I can tell you, it’s been exhausting,” she said. “I lost a lot of friends. It’s hard enough to be trans, but when a place that’s been telling you for years how awesome you are tells you you’re disgusting, it paralyzes you.”
Davenport has decided to sue SVSU for discriminatory actions. She said there are a few more depositions before preparations begin in her trial.
She had a few job prospects following her termination from SVSU, but nothing definite.
“I was pretty disbanded,” she said. “I had a few job prospects, but a friend of mine told me about a potential opening. I got a call soon after, asking me to apply.”
Soon after, she had an interview set up to teach in OU’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric.
Despite already having some media coverage, Davenport brought up the trial in her interview.
“I just didn’t want those surprises,” she said. “I felt it necessary that OU know I could end up on TV or in the news.”
However, she didn’t have much to fear. As per OU Administrative Policies and Procedures, “It is the policy of Oakland University that there shall be no unlawful discrimination against any person on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, age, height, weight, handicap, color, religion, creed, national origin or ancestry, marital status, familial status or veteran status.”
Davenport said she cried when she went in for the interview. The director of the WRT program told her, “We know, and we’re glad you’re here.”
“I felt that I found my place,” she said. “I’m lucky OU is the type of university that would look at me and say, ‘It’s not about you, it’s about them [the students].’”
Davenport said there are three things she’s looking forward to in her future, both at OU and beyond.
“Here at OU, there’s stability in my life,” she said. “The Detroit metro area offers so much. I see a chance for my life to settle down.”
She said that she’d like to eventually get her Ph.D., and that she sees the opportunity here at Oakland.
“I don’t know what I’ll get it in, though,” she said. “But I have a dissertation in mind. OU opens a bunch of doors. I hope I do a good job and I can be a returner.”
She also said that she wanted to get more involved with the trans, queer and intersex advocacy communities in metro Detroit.
“I think that this area can make a difference in bridging white trans communities and trans people of color,” she said. “There’s too much of a divide . . . I want my white trans brothers and sisters to cross that chasm, to be fierce, kind and gentle all at the same time.”
She also said that she wants the rights of trans and LGBTQIA+ (LGBT) people to be recognized.
“I would be failing if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity to say this,” she said. “In Michigan and in other places around the U.S., trans people have no rights protected as civil rights, state rights or local laws.”
She gave an example of bathroom rights. Last semester, she taught classes from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
“It’d be legal in Michigan for them [OU] to tell me I can’t use the bathroom,” she said.
At that point, she’d have to go across the street and hope a business would let her use a restroom. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with OU.
Davenport also said that there is no history of violence in bathrooms triggered by transgendered people. A recent NPR article said that transgender people are actually more likely to be harmed in a bathroom than cisgendered people (those who identify with their biological sex).
Oakland provides a bit of a safe haven for transgender individuals. This year, the university’s new preferred name policy was unveiled, allowing students to change their names within various official OU systems.
OU has the LGBTQIA Employee Resource Group, which provides resources and aid for faculty members who are part of the LGBT community.
“I haven’t spent much time there [at the resource group],” Davenport said. “I plan to be much more involved in the future.”