Non-Binary Student Targeted by Hate Crime at Catholic University Leads Inclusion Efforts

Ezra Wheeler

The University of San Diego’s student government passed a resolution in support of transgender people on campus, calling on the university’s administration to do more about gender inclusivity. Such calls have been growing since an anti-trans hate crime occurred in 2019.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported:

“At the end of January, USD’s Associated Student Government passed a resolution that calls on the university to ‘create a more affirming campus for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming individuals.’ Specifically, it says USD should normalize gender-affirming practices such as including pronouns, if it’s safe to do so, any place a person’s name is listed and facilitating the introduction of pronouns along with a person’s name at the beginning of class or at other meetings.”

At the January meeting, there was also a report by Stacey Williams, a campus administrator, on some newly implemented gender inclusion guidelines.

The student leader behind the student government’s resolution, Ezra Wheeler, experienced a hate crime two years ago, which helped prompt awareness about trans people’s well-being and safety on campus. Wheeler, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, was the target of vandalism on October 24, 2019. Someone approached their door in the middle of the night, “destroying their pride flags and writing transphobic and homophobic slurs.” Wheeler “had just come out as queer and nonbinary on social media the day before.”

The San Diego Union Tribune reported that Wheeler gave an interview this week about the 2019 hate crime, saying:

“‘It is easier to live in the closet. . .but it is really awful to live in the closet and to live in a way where I’m tailoring my existence to other people’s expectations. I am just not interested in doing that. I had been doing that for 19 years at that point, and I just really needed to be who I was.’ . . .

“‘I realized the perpetrator was trying to get power over me, trying to hold power over me and essentially just make me feel ashamed for who I am as a person. I felt that the only way that I could win in this case was to take back that power.'”

Wheeler reflected that both “the crime and the experience of interacting with the University’s Department of Public Safety and the San Diego Police Department was difficult.” The San Diego Police Department investigated the incident as a hate crime, but no one was charged. Wheeler said the departments “dropped the ball,” exacerbating their trauma.

While the police department did not adequately respond to the incident, Wheeler said they felt “more encouraged” by the way USD students responded. In a sign of solidarity in response to the hate crime incident, many students attended a vigil Wheeler helped organize in support of LGBTQ+ students. Soon after the crime, “an ad hoc committee formed to go over USD policies pertaining to hate crimes or other acts of intolerance.”

The hate crime Ezra Wheeler experienced was traumatic and threatening, certainly something that no person should have to undergo while attending college. It is particularly disturbing that this occurred in their very first semester at a Catholic university. The ways that Wheeler and other students have organized for greater inclusion and acceptance in response to the incident is inspiring, especially because such work towards justice invites greater visibility and must have been emotionally difficult. The actions of Wheeler and their fellow students hold the University of San Diego to the standard of full welcome and inclusion which every Catholic institution ought to provide.

This post is part of Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking here.

Madeline Foley, New Ways Ministry, April 29, 2021

1 reply
  1. Ann Marie Connolly
    Ann Marie Connolly says:

    Kudos to U of San Diego — indeed, all Catholic institutions should offer an inclusive and secure welcome to ALL — especially, those suffering marginalization in our broader society! As a straight ally, this was a good reminder of the power of speaking up for those suffering abuse — I was impressed to read that student body reactions to the attack on a non-binary classmate led to stronger policies for the university. There is strength in solidarity — silence is complicity!


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