Statement: CPCC is investigating, wants ‘amicable resolution’ with transgender student

Written statement says college is reviewing its policies, will seek 'on-going dialogue' with LGBT groups and leaders

Originally published: April 3, 2014, 1:24 p.m.
Updated: April 3, 2014, 4:22 p.m.

A student says she was harassed and detained by Central Piedmont Community College security officers in the central campus' Overcash building. Photo Credit: Ken Lund, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

A student says she was harassed and detained by Central Piedmont Community College security officers in the central campus’ Overcash building. Photo Credit: Ken Lund, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Officials with Central Piedmont Community College released a statement today saying they are investigating an alleged incident of discrimination against a transgender student. The college, the statement reads, wants an “amicable resolution” with the student and is also examining its policies and procedures.

“Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) is an open-door, open-access institution of learning, and we are proud of its rich diversity,” the statement from Public Information Officer Jeff Lowrance reads. “CPCC has a 50-year history of being fair, respectful and considerate of all students. The College does not tolerate harassment of any kind.”

The statement comes after several reports from qnotes and other media, following accusations that CPCC security officers harassed and detained transgender student Andraya Williams and worked to prevent her from filing a complaint regarding the incident. One official, Williams alleges, told her she had “no legal rights.”

CPCC says it is investigating the incident, and “the goal is to reach an amicable resolution with the student in the near future.” The college also said it will seek to have an “on-going dialogue with local and state LGBT leaders, including the College’s own LGBT organization.”

The college also says it is examining its policies and procedures to ensure “they are in compliance with current laws.” The college currently includes neither sexual orientation or gender identity in its basic non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

Williams’ attorney, Sarah Demarest, reacted to the statement on Thursday afternoon.

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“I’m happy to hear that CPCC is investigating the incident, however neither Andraya nor I have heard from them directly about the resolution,” Demarest said. “I hope they will apologize to Andraya and take immediate steps to make CPCC a safe place for all students.”

Demarest said the only communication from the school has been a short letter describing how Williams can access mediation on campus.

A protest supporting Williams is still scheduled for tomorrow, Friday, April 4, at Noon.

Conflicting statements

On Wednesday, CPCC released an incident report detailing security officers’ interactions with Williams.

She and Demarest, who says she heard most of the exchanges between Williams and the officers, maintain that Williams had shown her student ID to officers.

But, the college had told qnotes and several other media outlets that Williams was escorted off campus for refusing to show her ID.

The incident report contradicts the college’s earlier statements. Williams and the college disagree over the details of the exchange and how quickly the ID was shown, but the report notes that Williams did, in fact, eventually show her ID to campus security.

qnotes asked CPCC Public Information Officer Jeff Lowrance late Wednesday afternoon why Williams was escorted off campus once she did produce an ID and officers were able to confirm that she was, in fact, a student.

“The student was asked to leave campus after being asked to provide ID multiple times and the student did not,” he said over the phone. “It took multiple requests. The student was being uncooperative.”

Williams and Demarest disagree with the college’s version of the interaction.

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MORE: Read our previous story on the incident report

Rights violated

Demarest has maintained that her client’s rights have been violated. Williams says she was not given information on how to file a complaint by a dean at the school. When she took her complaints to the campus’ equal opportunity director, she says he told her she had “no legal rights” and pressured her not to file a report.

Those actions, said Demarest, combined with the previous harassment, constitute violations of Williams’ due process rights and rights under Title IX, a federal law banning gender-based discrimination in educational programs.

On Wednesday, Demarest said she and Williams will continue pushing their case.

“This was about prejudice and harassment,” Demarest said earlier. “Now it’s about prejudice, harassment and excuses.”

Demarest added, “I think the incident is outrageous. No other students are being asked for proof of their gender by campus security.”

Celebrities, organizations speak out

Students at CPCC and other local schools, along with a local youth organization, have already issued public statements of support for Williams. A CPCC student-organized protest is still scheduled to take place on Friday.

The controversy is also attracting attention from transgender celebrities, including “Orange is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox and author Janet Mock.

On Wednesday, the Charlotte-based national LGBT advocacy group Campus Pride also released a statement. The group said its executive director, Shane Windmeyer, visited CPCC’s campus on March 5 to discuss “LGBT concerns for CPCC and its lack of LGBT-inclusive policy.”

Windmeyer said his organization is willing to work with CPCC “in devising an action plan” to address the issues.

“Central Piedmont Community College must do the right thing and take necessary actions to support Andraya and other LGBT students on campus. Now is the time to apologize and begin enacting transgender inclusive policies, programs and practices to ensure this does not happen again,” Windmeyer said in the statement. “All students have the right to a safe learning environment including LGB and T students. Every day that CPCC chooses not to take action negatively impacts the campus climate. The complacency and excuses must stop before this escalates any further.”

Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, also spoke out, saying it had been in conversations with the school.

“In my ongoing conversations with President Dr. Tony Zeiss, it is clear that CPCC is taking the first steps to make sure that the college’s policies afford transgender students the safety, dignity, and respect they deserve,” Chris Sgro, Equality NC’s executive director, said in a release Thursday afternoon.

Equality North Carolina said it hopes its conversations will help broaden CPCC’s policy protections for LGBT students and will also work to “reevaluate what all of North Carolina’s colleges, community colleges, and universities can do to protect LGBT North Carolinians.”

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.