ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Lindenwood University leaders said they canceled a campus event over lack of funding, but the cancellation has sparked a bigger discussion on campus about the transgender community.
Since the 1980s, TED talks have been held around the world to discuss technology, entertainment, and design.
Lindenwood University held its first TEDx talk in 2017. TEDx events are like the original international conference but, instead, focus on local ideas. The university planned to hold its second TEDx event in January 2019.
However, after months of planning, the event was suddenly canceled in July. Despite the event being months away, a spokesperson with Lindenwood University said there was not enough interest from sponsors to fund the event which was estimated to cost $10,000.
Speakers for Lindenwood’s TEDx event were going to speak about topics like health, technology, and social issues. Gina Keating, one of the TEDx speakers who is also a graduate student at the university, said there was an extensive selection process that required a lot of time and preparation.
People involved with planning the event said problems began when university leadership caught wind of a local doctor’s plan to discuss issues facing the transgender community.
“Telling us that there was an enormous suicide problem in the trans community,” said Keating after hearing a brief introduction to the other speaker’s topic. “It was fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to hear more about it.”
Keating, who is also an author and filmmaker, was out of town when she received an email saying the event was off. She was later contacted by members of the planning committee asking if she would participate in the event if it was held off campus.
“I asked what was the reason it was canceled, and I was told that there was some offense taken to the word ‘transgender,’ and this absolutely made me furious,” she said.
Keating sent emails to the university provost, president, and the chief information officer but said she did not receive a response. She said she even visited the provost’s office hoping to meet in person.
“When I couldn’t get (an appointment), I asked to be notified when she could see me, and I’m still waiting,” Keating said. “That was probably six weeks ago.”
The university maintains its position that the event was canceled due to lack of sponsorships, but concerned students said the lack of transparency from the university highlights bigger problems on campus, particularly for vulnerable groups.
Senior Ariel Page said there are student groups and professors on campus that support and encourage LGBTQ students, but the university does not widely publicize or provide similar services. She said she was disappointed when the upcoming TEDx event was canceled.
“Like, having something in the schedule that was going to be this moment where you can talk to a large group about transgender issues and then canceling that, even if it was just a budgeting issue, that’s saying that they don’t prioritize that,” Page said.
Heather Brown-Hudson, Associate Professor of French and Gender Studies Program Chair, met with a group of approximately 25 students, faculty and community members Thursday night (Sept. 20) to give them a chance to voice concerns. Brown-Hudson took notes and promised she would bring the suggestion to university leaders and the school’s Diversity Task Force.
“We’re just trying to affirm an actual human experience, to affirm someone’s identity,” said Brown-Hudson. “Censorship and erasure in the LGBT community is real, and it has lasting and damaging effects.”
Students expressed concerns over housing options for LGBTQ students and language used by professors when describing the LGBTQ community. They are also concerned about lack of services and programs specifically for LGBTQ students and allies, as well as gender-neutral bathrooms.
“The whole slogan of the university now is ‘Real Experience, Real Success,'” said Page. “That’s an important experience to have those connections to the transgender community.”
Some members of the planning committee are still planning to host the upcoming TEDx event at a location off campus.
Fox 2/KPLR 11 will update this story when more information is available.