Professor Reported to Bias Response Line for Alleged Transphobia

Alex Domb
NYU Psychology professor was accused of transphobic remarks and was reported via the Bias Response Hotline.

NYU Psychology Professor Edgar Coons was reported by Steinhardt junior August Enzer, a transgender man, to NYU’s Bias Response Line on Wednesday, Nov. 8 for repeated instances of alleged transphobia.

Although Enzer was the one to formally report Coons, the action was spurred by accusations from multiple students about Coons’ repeated and intentional bigotry, according to Enzer.

Enzer said that the report he filed accused Coons of using offensive language on multiple occasions, intentionally and repeatedly referring to transgender students by unwanted pronouns and teaching outdated and disproven science on gender and sexuality.

According to Enzer, approximately five other students were willing to verify the contents of his report, if necessary. However, Enzer submitted the Bias Response Line report on his own.

When information is reported to the Bias Response Line, an Office of Equal Opportunity employee listens to the report and determines any follow-up action, if necessary, the office said. If the office concludes that action should be taken, it relays the information to the specific school or department in which the original bias issue occurred.

Enzer met with representatives from the Bias Response Line last Friday. He said the staffers were receptive to his complaints and told him that they would speak to Seryl Kushner Dean of NYU’s College of Arts and Science Gene Jarrett about the report. As of yesterday, the CAS administration and human resources have received the case from the Bias Response Line.

Enzer said he was first subject to transphobic comments from the professor during his freshman year in an Introduction to Psychology course taught by Coons. According to Enzer, in one class focusing on gender and sexuality, Coons used the term “abnormalities” in reference to transgender individuals.

In an interview with WSN, Coons denied using the term “abnormalities” in this discussion. Coons also denied ever using the wrong pronouns in addressing transgender individuals once being made aware of their gender identities.

“I’m quite sensitive to the sensitivity of these issues,” Coons said.

Enzer confronted Coons in class about his use of the word “abnormalities” instead of “transgender,” but Enzer said that Coons dismissed the issue as one that is subjective as opposed to objective, and told Enzer to talk to Coons after class about his concerns.

Enzer talked to the teaching assistants after class, who said the situation would be handled and that the curriculum would be changed. Enzer claims that nothing has been changed after two years. He also said that multiple students, including several transgender students, commended him for attempting to correct Coons.

“Coons’ lesson plans are just very blatantly disrespectful, very blatantly transphobic,” Enzer said. “The school has done nothing to combat this or educate him.”

Coons did not recall being confronted about issues regarding transphobia in his classes prior to the current incident, contradicting Enzer’s report that he had confronted Coons in class two years ago.

Enzer said he was prompted to report Coons this week after talking to a sophomore friend, another transgender man, who said that he had the same experience in the same class on gender and sexuality this fall. According to Enzer, Coons repeatedly referred to this transgender man as a woman.

Enzer said Coons’ behavior often crosses the line from ignorant to malicious, which makes him think that Coons acts in an intentionally bigoted manner.

“Ignorance is when you don’t know your mistakes, and bigotry is when you know your mistakes and when you refuse to learn from them,” Enzer said. “The fact that he has been confronted about this repeatedly, and refused to change his ways, is a sign of maliciousness.”

A junior who also took Introduction to Psychology was also angered by his remarks on topics regarding marginalized groups.

“I remember being extremely upset with transphobic and homophobic comments he was making in class,” the junior, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “Beyond this being unacceptable due to moral standards, it’s ridiculous that he apparently isn’t up to date on current psychological research.”

Coons said he does believe that being transgender is a legitimate way for one to identify, and feels that individuals should be able to identify as a gender that differs from their biological sex.

“Whatever gender someone feels to be should be how they are recognized,” Coons said. “What one feels is what’s important.”

Enzer feels that Coons’ denials of the allegations are telling.

“His lack of empathy speaks volumes,” Enzer said. “If someone calls you out, you should always seek to better yourself and apologize for any misconceptions, rather than cover your tracks or repute information that has clearly hurt people.”

In the short term, Enzer hopes that NYU disciplines Coons, and said he would be happy to see Coons leave the school due to his unwillingness to change. In the long term, he hopes that a program can be implemented to train faculty about how to accommodate transgender students and that faculty members will be held more accountable.

However, Enzer said he remains concerned about other transgender students in Coons’ classes, and expressed doubt that his report will lead NYU to take action.

“The idea that there are other kids who are still so morbidly uncomfortable, so offended and so upset by this, is just so infuriating,” Enzer said. “This is something the school needs to look into, and shouldn’t be my or any other trans kid’s responsibility.”

Email Alex Domb at [email protected]

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7 COMMENTS

  1. This is insane, gender politics is a relatively new phenomena and I bet a lot of the older professors aren’t aware of these nuances.
    A lot of current professors behave the same way, they slip up with unintentional microaggressions and sometimes they correct themselves and other times they forget. You don’t go reporting every professor that addresses you with the wrong pronoun.
    I took Coons, and he had very interactive lectures with skits and performances. You’d have do some serious mental gymnastics to say this guy was being intentionally malicious.

  2. I have no idea about this particular situation, but the reality is NYU does not care about disciplining any of its staff for misbehavior. I have reported a situation to the University many times in which negligent behavior resulted in someone’s death, and they STILL do not care. Marc Wais, Director of Student Affairs, is aware of the situation and was completely indifferent and useless in solving it. If NYU doesn’t care about someone’s death caused by negligence, they sure as heck don’t care about a professor using the wrong pronoun.

  3. What if he didn’t like Furries? Do Trans-specie people deserve respect too? I think so. I want to be a Manatee. I was born a manatee in a human’s body. There are people who feel trapped in their human flesh just begging to be Rabbits, Mice, Monkeys, Squirrels, and Ducks. Look at Batman and Spiderman. They get some major respect. They can walk around the city and not get bullied or called derogatory names. People kinda see them as heroes. There are more Trans-specie people than you think. Remember “Wolf Boy”? I honestly think that if it is wrong to think of Transgender people as weird or sick, then why can’t Trans-specie people have the same respect and equality? We are Trans-SPECIAL!!!!

  4. I was in Coons’ Intro to Psych this semester and was there during that lecture. First, I think it is important to keep in mind that Professor Coons repeatedly emphasized that there was a lot of new research coming out in this area of psychology. In the lecture, he talked about the horrible nature of what happened to a young man in 1967. A botched circumcision resulting in this anonymous boy- who was referred to in the textbook as “John”- having surgery to change his biological sex to a girl, who was referred to as “Joan”. John/Joan (as the textbook referred to this individual) was raised as a girl, however, this resulted in John/Joan realizing his true gender when he reached adulthood. Coons talked about this story, and in fact repeatedly stated, that biological sex was not the same as gender and that the anatomy you are born with does not necessarily dictate what gender you are. He repeatedly mentioned the trauma that John/Joan went through as a result of having a gender forced on him that was not his own. Professor Coons’ language may not have been absolutely perfect, but let’s face it, he was born during the Great Depression, and all of this information about transgender people is very new to him, despite the fact that it is very much true and affects the lives of many people. He was not at all transphobic, in fact, he did a wonderful job of teaching us that gender and biological sex are not the same thing.

  5. This is really just sad. The man is 88 for g-d sake; can the trans-community and/or fem gay male army shelve the mean spirited lynch mob for the elderly at least?

    Seriously, for a group preoccupied with their physical shell, they don’t look the mirror much. Be assured if there’s a hurtful or judgmental comment in the air, a trans-man or fem gay male is close by — proudly breathing in the hurt he/she/it has caused in the name of righteousness or wit.

    I understand it’s painful to be different in this world, but it’s not a free pass to squeeze all the judgment and hurt you’ve soaked up through the years over anyone you choose. Seriously, where are my mean lesbians? The angry army of disabled people? How come we don’t have a F2M transgender hate mob? Where are my angry “little people”? Will the closeted foot fetish people finally revolt?

    Everyone else is living their life. Live yours August. Live it however you choose, but you have no right to sterilize the world custom to your liking. Be offended, talk to the professor if it bothers you or take another class if you think he’s full of it. Taking out a respected professor through the media because he didn’t address you as you wished is truly criminal and narcissistic.

    It doesn’t make you an activist; it makes you a jerk.

  6. I can’t agree more with G in the thread. I took Prof Coons class 2 years ago and I remember his vivid teaching about John/Joan, who was born as a male yet was later raised as a girl due to the circumcision incident. He was quite respectful on the issue, didn’t make any joke on the matter, and repeatedly told us the difference between gender and biological sex. I feel bad for you though August, it must have been hard to experience all this. However at the same time I could hardly imagine Prof Coons with a malicious intent towards transgender group, for he was truly a respectful and intelligent professor.

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