A Re-Working of Safe & Accessible
For my activist project, I am re-starting the organization SASS (Society for Accessible and Safe Spaces) on the UC Santa Barbara campus. Since SASS is an organization that has a rich and complex history, a large portion of my time was dedicated to research. My research included conducting interviews, reading articles, and skimming chapters in books. The rest of this blog post will highlight the history that I came across, as well as my ideas for the organization as it moves forward.
The History of PISSAR:
In the year 2003, People in Search of Safe and Accessible Restrooms, also known as PISSAR, came into existence as a byproduct of the University of California Student of Color Conference, which was held at UC Santa Barbara. The group’s founding members were those attending the conference that chose to participate in either the disability caucus or the transgender caucus, which just so happened to be in rooms adjacent to one another. When the caucuses decided to form one group due to the low attendance in each room, the coalitional work began to take place in the form of a conversation around bathrooms. Within the year following the conference, the group took action and “potty patrol” was enacted on UCSB’s campus. “Potty patrol” involved members of PISSAR setting out to rate and map the accessibility of every bathroom on campus.
While the group viewed “accessible” in capacious terms, the focus of this movement was around trans* and disabled bodies. The asterisk (*) denoted at the end of the word trans is a key component to PISSAR’s work on accessibility because the asterisk is deployed to include everyone who might fall under the gender variant “umbrella,” not just solely the transgender community. Therefore, the asterisk in “trans*” includes people who identify as genderqueer, gender variant, gender non-conforming, non-binary, transgender, transsexual, and the list goes on and on. PISSAR was interested in deconstructing the ways in which bathrooms have functioned as sites of stigmatization and discomfort for all of the aforementioned bodies. For example, not all bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, some bathrooms have dispensers and sinks at heights that are not accessible for everyone, and for folks who are labeled “gender non-conforming” many bathrooms serve as a site of violence or harassment. Therefore, the end result of this project was a chart that lists every gender-neutral bathroom on campus, as well as their ADA accessibility. (This map can be found in the drop down links underneath the “S.A.S.S.” heading at the top of this page.)
The Formation & Reformation of S.A.S.S.:
In years to come, another student organization was formed: Society for Accessible and Safe Spaces, more commonly known as S.A.S.S. The students who founded SASS were inspired by the work that PISSAR had done and sought to model their own group around the same types of coalitonal work. While SASS was never a registered group through the Office of Student Life (OSL) at UCSB, they still held meetings, sent students to conferences, and brought performers to campus in an attempt to raise awareness around the issues that trans* students and students with disabilities face on a regular basis. Within recent years, SASS has become largely inactive and currently has no acting officers or members, which is where my own intentions come into play.
I have dedicated the past ten weeks to research, as well as creating a working constitution, in order to register SASS as an active OSL group for the 2013-2014 academic year. I have created flyers and quarter sheets for the outreach that I anticipate doing in the fall. (The flyer can be found in the drop down section under the heading “S.A.S.S.”) I was hesitant at first about whether or not I wanted to officially register SASS through the Office of Student Life mostly because of the rules and regulations that could potentially limit the work that we do. However, the benefits of being able to have our own account and access funding from the school for events is what helped me decide otherwise. The organization currently has three officers, which is the minimum necessary to register, but I am looking to add more prior to the start of Fall Quarter. Shae Miller, who has worked with SASS in previous years, will be standing in as the organizations official Faculty/Staff/Graduate Student advisor. My aims for the group will be to hold regular bi-weekly meetings that will be located in the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Our meetings will be open spaces that encourage the participation of all undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff alike.
Personal Transformations & Limitations:
As a UCSB student who is openly transgender, I saw recreating SASS as an opportunity to establish a home for myself on this campus that I had never been provided before. However, throughout my research and recruitment, my own thoughts and ideologies around safe and accessible spaces began to shift. I started to question what it meant for my interest in this group to be so strongly rooted in my own identity, and while I think personal experiences are important, they may also provide limitations. I had to continuously challenge myself to be critical of the words “safe” and “accessible” as I explored what types of projects SASS might be interested in accomplishing in the future.
While the organization will seek to further the work that has been done previously regarding campus accessibility for trans*/gender non-conforming students and students with disabilities, I hope it also looks to expand its activism around accessibility in other ways. As scholar Clare Hemmings points out in the introduction to her book, Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory, the ways in which we construct and read the histories and stories of our movements and its ideologies may lend to the uniformity of our theoretical trajectories. In other words, by telling stories that frame this organization as one that exists only for trans* students and students with disabilities, we severely limit our ability to enact a capacious understanding of the term “accessible” and the many ways it can be applied in varying contexts.
For PISSAR, the site of accessibility addressed was the bathroom. However, I want to push SASS, and myself, to analyze accessibility through a spatial and temporal framework that acknowledges accessibility as contextual and constantly changing; moreover these contexts of accessibility are not limited only to trans* students and students with disabilities. What it means for a psychology classroom at UCSB to be accessible could be drastically different for every student involved in that space. Through the re-forming of this organization, I hope to provide an opportunity for the emergence of what George Lipsitz would label “composite identities.” This means that there are many points of entry into the work that is enacted by the members of this group and the entry point for each member is going to be variably different. However, despite varied entry points, we will work to continuously come together and establish common goals that challenge the many different axes of safety and accessibility.
Hemmings, Clare. “Introduction.” Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory. Pp. 1-27 , 2011. Print.
Lipsitz, George. “Walleye Warriors and White Identities: Native Americans’ Treaty Rights, Composite Identities, and Social Movements.” Ethnic and Racial Studies,Vol. 31 No. 1 (January 2008). Pp. 101-122. Print