Patience Kayira ‘20Assistant Arts Editor
Every Smithie can agree that while Smith is historically a women’s college, the Smith community is not just a community of women. With the results of the Pathways Survey revealing that 13 percent of students identify as transgender or nonbinary, this brings about the question of whether the “Women for the World” slogan provides a true representation of the Smith community.
Thus, after a year and a half of interviewing trans students at Smith and alumns, Sam Davis ’17 culminated these experiences into an hour long documentary, titled “In Our Own Words.” The premier took place on Thursday, April 20 in Seelye 106 in front of a large audience. While the film focuses on the experience of trans students at Smith, it also questions the administrative policies that seem to aid in the erasure of these students.
Composed of three parts—a film, oral histories on video and letters from alums—Davis’ thesis began with the Sophia Smith archives. While taking “Documenting Queer Lives” last spring, he noticed the absence of information concerning the history of trans students at Smith. This caused him to ask, “Why are we not in the archives?” He stated, “It’s hard to ignore the trans student body at Smith. They’re a present force.”
From there, he began a series of 11 interviews with trans and nonbinary students, and this resulted in a short 30 minute film. These initial interviews enabled his project to expand: “After doing those few interviews, I knew that that was what I needed to do, and I knew that I couldn’t leave Smith without doing dozens more.”
Thus “In Our Own Words,” presents an inclusive space where trans students share their stories. With a compilation of interviews, home videos and baby photos, the film’s diversity adds a sense of authenticity and honesty to the production. While the film did present a series of interviews, there was clear evidence of a story being told through the mixture of different mediums. Furthermore, the production’s high-quality displayed the great amount of effort and time Davis placed in creating the film.
The experiences of the interviewed students revealed the institutionalized barriers and discrimination that exist for trans students at Smith. Issues concerning judgement from other students, race, class and transphobia were recurrent themes brought up by the film at large and the discussion panel that followed. Furthermore, the question regarding the advocacy for trans students at Smith also manifested throughout the film as administrative policies carry a large role in shaping the experience for all students at Smith.
For trans students, administrative policies appear to be catered towards maintaining the idea of Smith being a space solely for women. Thus, the film used the recent change in admission policy, which enables transgender women to apply, as an example of a policy which presents the problem of pitting trans women against trans men. Ultimately, while the film ends on a note of hopefulness, the urgency for more administrative attention and concern ran clear.
When asked about the overall message Davis hoped to communicate with the film, his reply focused less on garnering a response from the student body and more on raising awareness. He stated, “At first I was really absorbed in what’s my message, but as I completed more interviews it became less important. I wanted to create a film where cis students who attend this school were forced to see us.”
Thus, the film emphasized the need for acceptance and inclusion by the student body and the administration. At the same time, Davis also recognizes Smith’s commitment in keeping its status as a women’s college, but he hopes that Smith will reconsider opening up its definition of a women’s college in order to make it a more inclusive space for trans students.
“In Our Own Words” is a powerful, informative film that presents the challenges trans students encounter at Smith. An overall, beautiful production Davis stated that the film was a “communal process where [he] as trans-student, could interview other trans-students and communicate over their shared identity.”