Guest commentary: Reflections on Sam Olens protest

Guest commentary: Reflections on Sam Olens protest

By Jessica Owens, a senior English major

When I started thinking about writing this, I had many ideas about what it should be about. I wanted it to be something great — something meaningful.

Over the last two weeks working on ideas, not once did I think I would be writing about one of our own that was lost.

This started as a report on a protest rally organized against the possible appointment of Sam Olens as the new president of Kennesaw State University. The news that the current Attorney General, a man with a track record of working against LGBTIQ rights, was the top prospect to take over the management of our beloved home ignited instant outrage in many of the staff and students. This was especially true for the transgender and gender non-conforming community, which was not surprising considering Olens’s involvement in suing the federal government over the Obama administration’s mandate that schools accommodate transgender students.

It was at this protest where I found out what this article was really going to be about. A young student, Cara Thomas, got up to share a story. She imparted the heart-breaking tale of a young transgender woman who took her life at the UClub student housing complex in April 2016.

For me, I was immediately struck with a need to reach out. I couldn’t stand the thought that a student at KSU, my beloved university, had succumbed to the pressures of living with gender dysphoria.

Ultimately, this is why TRANScend KSU was created — to provide a safe space where transgender and gender non-conforming students can come for support; where they can find someone who understands their situation to listen to their problems; where we, as a community, can come together to prevent such tragedies from happening.

I can’t help but wonder: if that woman had been able to take advantage of the benefits provided by this group, would she still be alive today?

Our mission becomes even more pressing in the wake of the possible appointment of Olens as president. Whether he brings with him a series of bigoted policies or not, his presence will increase anxiety in the community more than what the threat of it already has. Transgender students on campus right now are terrified of the possibility of loosing their rights and loosing their safe spaces.

The possibility that even TRANScend KSU could be undone by this appointment has our student family feeling a sense of impending doom, one that will linger like the shadow of a raptor poised to swoop down upon its prey.

It is clear, Olens is a poor choice for president, but we may be stuck with him. If we are, then we need to move forward. We need to work hard to keep things from going downhill.

We have to protect our family here at KSU, but how do we do that?

We speak out. We make our voices heard, and we command respect from our new leader. We stand tall with our wonderful staff, who is already working to protect the student body from any possible discriminatory fallout. We get the word out about the services available, and we fight to keep them in place. We come together as one to prevent the loss of student lives to suicide or hate.

We hold onto who we are and what we have. We show the University System of Georgia and Sam Olens what makes KSU great.

We are KSU. We are diverse, but we are all Owls.

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  • tjg1984

    Glad to hear that people are trying to figure these things out at KSU. When I attended, I felt that I wasn’t able to be myself openly; it was very isolating. Transgender people are everywhere, and I hope that people continue to learn more and become more accepting.