From the Great Eight Award to “Unable to Make Accommodations”: A Response to Mount St. Charles’ Policy on Transgender Students

Update: This week alumni of Mount St. Charles became aware of a policy regarding Transgender Students. Over the last 24 hours, more than 600 Mount St. Charles alumni have vocalized their frustration, disappointment, and anger regarding this policy. The passion for justice that is being expressed through social media is grounded in the lessons that were instilled in us while students at the Mount. We love Mount St. Charles and what it meant, and means, to us. We are dedicated to ensuring that future generations – that all people – are able to experiencing this amazing place in the same way that we did. We look forward to conversation with the administration in the days ahead and the opportunity to work with them to make Mount St. Charles the best place that it can be.

MSCThe psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart” (Psalm 38:8).

At 3:30pm today, March 3, 2016, my world was shaken in a deep and profound way. I was sitting in the refrectory at Yale Divinity School scrolling through Facebook passing the time until my afternoon class. A message popped up on my screen. It was from a dear and beloved friend, a classmate from my time at Mount St. Charles Academy. The message contained a link to a Facebook post shared by another Mountie. I knew something bad was afoot. I clicked, read the post, and instantly felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.

The post was a screen shot of the most recent version of the “Mount St. Charles Academy Parent-Student Handbook 2015-2016.” A bold red title appeared prominently reading: “Transgender Students”. Beneath the title were two lines containing 32 words, “Mount Saint Charles Academy is unable to make accommodations for transgender students. Therefore, MSC does not accept transgender students nor is MSC able to continue to enroll students who identify as transgender” (Note: This screen shot was taken from page 40 of the handbook).   As I read these words it took every ounce of restraint and control in body not to breakdown in the middle of the dining hall. As I read, reread, and read those words yet again the words of the psalmist instantly came to mind. “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail because of the groaning of my heart.”

Let me step back and clarify why these 32 words have dealt such a painful blow.

Up until 3:30pm today I was an incredibly proud and unabashed graduate of Mount St. Charles Academy. I have regularly boasted of the amazing education I received in junior high and high school. I have credited that institution, along with my time at Rhode Island College, for being the reason I am thriving as a graduate student at Yale University. I have already started lobbying my wife that we should send our future children to Mount St. Charles when the time comes. I have fervently defended my alma mater and encouraged others to consider sending their children there as well. You see the core of who I am rests largely on the foundation built during my six years as a student at Mount St. Charles.

It was at Mount St. Charles that I first learned that I could succeed as a student. It was at Mount St. Charles that I experienced the love and unending support from faculty and staff who sacrificed much of themselves for the wellbeing of their students. It was at Mount St. Charles that I learned to be a better person. It was Mount St. Charles that taught me how to be a better Christian. Not only did Mount St. Charles teach me to be a better Christian, it taught me how to live more fully into the promises of the Baptismal Covenant found in The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. My six years at Mount St. Charles taught me more about living into this covenanted relationship with God than any Sunday School, Confirmation class, or Baptism workshop I have ever attended. Most importantly, it was at Mount St. Charles that my vocation to the priesthood emerged and was allowed to blossom despite the fact that I was not Roman Catholic. It is because of all this and more that two years ago on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I wrote a blog post describing just how proud I was to be a Mountie. Sadly, I can no longer stand by the words, “I am proud to be a Mountie.”

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

Today, when I learned that Mount St. Charles no longer accepts Transgender students the foundation of who I am, the foundation built at Mount St. Charles, shattered.

It shattered because I am a Mountie, and I am Transgender.

Those two lines, those 32 words on page 40 of the Parent-Student Handbook mean that if I were to apply to Mount St. Charles today they would not accept me because of who I am – they would reject me because of my God given identity. If those shattering and painful sentences were the policy when I was a student, if they were included in the 2005-2006 or 2006-2007 Parent-Student Handbook, Mount St. Charles could have refused to continue my enrollment. I refuse to begin to contemplate what I would have done had I been kicked out of Mount St. Charles because my gender identity does not fit into a neat little box – but I can guarantee you it would not have been good.

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

Today I learned that Mount St. Charles has failed me. Today I learned that I am a second class Mountie. Today I also learned the value of a Mount education.

From the moment I saw the original Facebook post, my Facebook newsfeed has been overwhelmed with outraged alumni, I have received Facebook messages and texts letting me know how much I am loved and supported by my former classmates. What is emerging on Social Media are the fruits of the community we built at Mount St. Charles; it is a harnessing of the passion and commitment to justice that was engrained in us at Mount St. Charles. The letter writing, mobilizing, and organizing that began within moments of this news being discovered are the fruits of the education we received at Mount St. Charles. We are embodying the Mount St. Charles mission statement:

Mount Saint Charles Academy, a private, Catholic junior- senior high school in the tradition of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, serves a co-educational community in a college preparatory environment.

We challenge our students through rigorous academic programs and through religious and co-curricular experiences to become people of faith who use their talents and intellects to serve others.

Each and every student is known, valued, treasured, and taught in partnership with the family.

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

When I was in the eighth grade, I received the biggest award for a junior high student. I received the Great Eight Award, an award given to two students in the eighth grade who exemplify what it means to be a Mountie. Since 2003, as a result of this award, my name has been inscribed on your wall of fame. My name stands as a symbol of what it truly means to embody the spirit of the Mount. It is hard, it seemingly impossible, to reconcile the fact that I could go from exemplifying what it means to be a Mountie – something I have endeavored to do since the day I received that award – to being a person my beloved alma mater refuses “to accommodate.”

And so, to the faculty, staff, and administration of Mount St. Charles who approved this policy, to you whom I put complete faith and trust it, to you whom I relied on, to you who cared for me – you have failed me. You have failed not just me, but each and every student who does, who has ever, and who will ever walk through your doors. You have outraged me, you have disappointed me, you have hurt me, but most importantly who have cut down everything you taught me to stand for. I hope you remember that each and every time you walk outside the faculty room, every time you glimpse my name on the Great Eight Award plaque, because those 32 words inscribed in your handbook discredit everything you say you stand for. I am your student: what happened to “each and every student is known, valued, treasured, and taught”?

The psalmist writes, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

In the days ahead, more will be said, letters will be written, and campaigns will begin. But, today I can only manage these words. I can only muster up the strength to share my deep and profound pain.

Today I write, “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

I sign this message in anticipation of day than I can once again say, “I am proud to be a Mountie.”

Sincerely,

Dante A. Tavolaro ’07

7 Comments

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7 responses to “From the Great Eight Award to “Unable to Make Accommodations”: A Response to Mount St. Charles’ Policy on Transgender Students

  1. Thank you for writing this. I just signed the petition and am hopeful the school will reconsider it’s position and change to a more accepting one.

  2. Karen Allen

    Well said Dante. You were the first person I thought of when I heard of this ridiculous policy. I can only hope with the passage of time you and other Mounties will realize that this does not take away any of your experiences from high school, my hope is that the community you built during your time there will strengthen you and lift you up.

  3. CS

    Reblogged this on just barely not bad and commented:
    Here’s thoughts better than I could ever state about a local school which recently banned transgender students.

  4. Pingback: From the Great Eight Award to “unable to make accommodations” : A response to Mount St. Charles’ policy on transgender students

  5. Kim Williams

    “I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.” Praying that the leadership of the school opens their hearts and chooses to be more like Christ.

  6. Pingback: The Path is Paved With Facebook Posts: 36 Hours Later | desiringthekingdom

  7. Kate

    I support you. Katherine Eaton, class of ’88.

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