The trans slur “wombn” was found written in chalk on the pavement outside Berkeley High School (BHS) on the morning of September 13.
The slur is a derogatory term used to exclude transfeminine people from womanhood, people who were assigned male at birth but identify as women.
The term “wombn” seeks to exclude transfem individuals from identifying with their feminine identity by discrediting their personal gender identification.
The slur is a play on the word “woman.” By using a different spelling than the original word it gives the impression that it is not a real word, and therefore that it is not necessarily a valid identity.
One student first saw the slur and reported it to the administration, who dealt with it rapidly. This student spoke to the Jacket but chose to remain anonymous.
“It was really upsetting obviously,” they said in an email. “I was scared because I don’t know who put this here or what their intentions were. It definitely made me feel really alone … later on I felt angry. I don’t understand how someone could feel okay about putting it there.”
The issue was reported to BHS Vice Principal Harrison Blatt, who dealt with it quickly.
Blatt said that whenever there is a report of graffiti or vandalism on campus, it is reported to the school’s custodial supervisor or head of facilities who works to clean it up.
According to BHS principal Juan Raygoza there is no security camera footage of the incident, since it occurred just outside of campus, and no way to discipline the perpetrator.
Raygoza did say that there are some procedures in place to deal with issues like this one.
“One thing we do even before this incident is have custodians that arrive to work very early check around the grounds for anything hateful that may appear overnight,” said Raygoza.
The student also said that the writing may be symptomatic of a larger issue within the BHS community.
“In my experience, [BHS] has been fairly inclusive,” the student said. “Most people are trying to be inclusive. However, I think people are uneducated. Everyone has been told how to introduce themselves with their pronouns and maybe how to use they/them pronouns but I don’t think people actually know why … There should be more education for staff and students about trans issues.”
They also emphasized some issues transgender students still face at school, aside from the general culture, including the fact that there are only two gender neutral bathrooms on campus.
“We won’t stand for this,” the student said. “This isn’t really a policy issue, it’s a community issue … People have to be aware of the transphobia at BHS, not in admin, but with the students.”
Raygoza and Blatt both emphasized the support systems BHS has in place to support trans students.
Among these is the Gender Expansive Support Group on campus, which is led by teacher Max Wheeler, and the creation of a Gender Support Plan for trans students, which is coordinated by Dean of Attendance Aman Watson.
The plan is communicated to all relevant teachers and staff members, in order to “make sure our students feel safe on campus,” according to Raygoza.
Blatt emphasized the importance of helping transgender students feel seen at BHS, and moving towards a more gender inclusive school community.
“As a community we all have a job to do to ensure that we are fighting oppression to make BHS a more inclusive, respectful and loving place,” said Blatt. “I think there’s a really strong movement on campus to [expand] gender inclusivity and gender expansive ways of thinking and living … and there’s always more we can do as individuals, as administrators and community to ensure we rid our campus of hate.”
Blatt also said that BHS’s professional development, led by Wheeler, along with Tasha Jackson, has made gender inclusivity a priority in their work.
“I think that the best way that we can make sure to rid our campus of hate and we are supporting every student so that they can be successful everyday … is to build a coalition of people who understand the urgency … who are committed to do the best for our staff, for our students, and families,” said Blatt.