Full Interview with Dylan “Wiki” Rogers

In the early hours of July 10th, transgender Bucknell student Dylan “Wiki” Rogers was returning from Brendan’s Towne Tavern in downtown Lewisburg with six friends when she was reportedly assaulted by a group of men, in what is being investigated by the Buffalo Valley Police Department as a hate crime. Suffering a number of injuries, including a concussion and various bruises, Rogers filed a police report with the BVPD as well as the University. An energetic young activist and political science student, she has since recovered from the attack.

The editorial board sat down with Dylan last Saturday to talk about her experience, responses from the Bucknell community, and her thoughts and plans on what has to come next. The full transcript of the conversation has been reprinted below, with questions bolded.

Because of the personal effect that this must have had, I just wanted to ask, first of all, how you’re feeling right now.

I’m hanging in there, you know – stirred, but not shaken and not broken. It’s certainly been a hard week, and there is certainly a lot to come, but I have a lot of hope that this atrocious act can be turned into, and I will work to ensure it can be turned into, some sort of greater good.

You mentioned in your original Facebook post [about the attack] that there were “a few details” from the original Daily Item piece that were inaccurate. Would you want to correct any of those details in advance of this piece?

They’re very minor details. One was that, I believe, the piece mentioned I was kicked. I never have said that, I don’t know where they got that from, that’s simply not true. Just so for factual accuracy, I probably wouldn’t include [that]. And my description of the attacker – I said he was 200 to 250 [pounds], I didn’t say he was upwards of 250, but those are the only two details that I remember off the top of my head. 

This attack has obviously drawn out some pretty substantial attention – and scrutiny – from the campus community. Has it been your experience that this attention has affirmed your experience, or sought to undermine or question it? What has your reaction been to the campus response?

On an individual level, I feel like I have been very active in the campus community – kind of a “have your finger in every pie” type girl, involved with the Climate March back in 2016, and it all started when I was involved with the Bucknell Alternative Delegation’s advocacy for students with disabilities. (As a neurodivergent and physically disabled student myself, that was something I was very passionate about straight from the get-go.) So, I’ve kind of been around, involved in clubs and all these kinds of different things. So when the news of the event broke, I  was getting reached out to left and right – everyone was extremely, extremely supportive. But I think […] on an individual level, absolutely. 

What concerns me, though, is the institutional response. The administration was aware of what happened when they sent out the email saying that the Fran’s House incident had been committed with, I believe their words were “no explicit bias.” One, I simply don’t buy it. These people were banging at a Pride flag – you don’t see the rainbow flag that you’re trying to tear down? I simply don’t believe that. And two, [President Bravman] didn’t contact myself or any of the members of Fran’s House before sending out that email. It just seems exceedingly tone-deaf. When you – and I know he did know at the time that the attack had happened – to publish that response when and how it was published. 

So like I said, I’m certainly not saying that individually and administratively and institutionally, that [the community] hasn’t been supportive. But it seems almost like, you’re saying that you’re thoroughly investigating these kinds of things and then turning around and saying “well, this incident that seems to have had at least some element of clear bias has no bias, and publishing at just a very inopportune moment.

I actually did want to ask you about that – have you received any sort of contact from the administration about [the assault]? Has anybody from President Bravman’s office reached out to you or anything like that?

John Bravman has reached out to our family and told us what is being done – I won’t speak too much about that out of administrative respect – it was being done to ensure that from an administrative level, from a legal level, from an investigative level, that all these things are being handled properly and swiftly. However, like I said, it’s one thing to say something and it’s another thing to do something. For example, one other thing that seems very tone-deaf is in Bravman’s email – they’re saying that they’re going to do everything they can to ensure the safety of marginalized students at the University. But what’s been done? There has been no serious action taken. I’m sure in the following days there will definitely be something. The DA’s office will be pressing charges against the student who started the attack. And I will fight this tooth and nail if I have to. But getting action taken against the fraternity system as a whole – that enabled these individuals – is certainly going to be an uphill battle. Because it  often seems like the University is more concerned with the financial backing and collective discipline that is offered by the fraternity system rather than its historic origins in systemic racism, and the institutional violence and lack of mental and physical safety that it allows for students on this campus to have.

How do you think the two events of the last couple of months have (what happened to you, and the attack on Fran’s House) play into the larger conversation that our University has been having about Greek life and it’s effects on the LGBTQ community?

Well, I think the one thing to keep in mind is that these are not isolated events, right? Though these two received large amounts of attention both in our community and externally, things like this happen every day to students – ranging from our [25 to 33%] times higher than the national average rape and sexual assault rate on campus, to physical assault, to all the assaults and sexual assaults that go unreported on our campus, to the many, many instances of racism adding to the discrimination that marginalized groups on this campus already experience – that derive from this system. 

[In 2020, the Association of American Universities shared the results of their nationwide Campus Climate Survey, reporting that among “undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” Independent surveys by Bucknell University’s Sexual Assault Research Team recorded a 2020-21 victimization rate of 38.6% for women and 17.2% for men, including “[nonconsentual] contact, attempted rape, or rape by coercion or assault.” ]

Now, I’m not saying that if you were to erase this system, all those things would disappear. But it’s kind of hard to take conversations about addressing these issues seriously when, in two or three years here, I’ve seen three to four fraternities kicked off. One of the first few weeks I was here on campus, one of even the most praised fraternities – and I’m certainly not trying to tag any individuals within these organizations, but more pointing  to a systemic issue – even [they] had had an issue with a reported rape. Again, keyword there being reported; they had to lay low for a while and then they came back. They weren’t actually kicked off for this event. But most of these instances don’t go reported, right? Students getting [urinated] on by other students, students getting attacked, having slurs hurled at them – these are all things that have happened during my time here. And it certainly doesn’t cover the scope and intensity of experience that comes with those things. 

It’s simply tragic to see: what has to happen, does a student have to die before real change happens? That’s what happened at Penn State, where they ended their fraternity system after a student died because of hazing rituals. We know how hazing rituals have been at Bucknell from recent reports that have been in the news as well. And the KDR incident was not the first time. So it pains my heart to see, it really does, and I hope that at least one good thing to come out of this is some real change to the fraternity system, if not its abolishment as a whole, which is where I would lean towards. 

[In February 2017, 19-year-old Timothy J. Piazza was killed during a hazing ritual of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the Pennsylvania State University. That fraternity was closed and permanently banned from Penn State, and they have since opened the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform. There are currently 33 active fraternities at Penn State.]

What ways do you think that the campus community can help out – both in the immediate context of your reported assault, and the larger context of the permissive culture of the Greek life system and anti-LGBTQ sentiment?

I want to be very clear on something for a minute – as a trans woman of color, these are experiences that are not simply endemic to the Greek system, these are endemic to the university system both here and elsewhere, and these are endemic to our society as a whole. I am a little bit – I don’t want to say perturbed – but disheartened that the focus has been on my identity as a transgender woman, because I certainly don’t think that was the only thing that played a role in the attack, as I have been speaking about in the last few days. I certainly think that there is a decent chance that my racial identity may have played a role as well. 

Leaving that aside for a moment; for one, calling out things when you see them. And I’m not just talking about – a lot of people think that homophobia and racism is about saying mean things. No, it’s about systemic perceptions that result in implications of bias, among many, many other things. So for example, when you’re serving on committees as faculty members, when you are with your friends going to the bar and you see and hear these things, it’s important to question them. [But] it’s not a popular thing to do. 

There’s also, I think, the policy issue. Here in the state of Pennsylvania, we would have to – if I’m not mistaken – in order to actually have laws that protect LGBTQ individuals [through] amend[ing] our Constitution, they attempted to include us into the law, and it was, if I’m not mistaken […] found unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in ‘02. So obviously, pushing to make sure that those kinds of policy changes happen at every level. 

[No bill has been passed, nor is it explicitly stated in Pennsylvania’s Constitution, that provides protection from private employment discrimination based on sexual identity or sexual orientation. This changed in June 2020 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevented against gender or sexuality-based discrimination. In August 2002, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled that unmarried and same-sex couples can legally adopt children in the state.]

As a disability advocate, I have had to both look at those big systems that we face at the federal and state legal level. But the real change that I’ve pushed for has happened behind closed doors in offices  where no one’s going to hear about them. And it’s obviously hard to gain momentum from those kinds of victories, but those are the kind of victories that really help students on these individual levels. Bucknell Alternative Delegation, say what you will, was actually a driving force for real systemic change behind closed doors over the past five years – despite the fact that the organization itself kind of fizzled out. Even now, we’re still talking about them five years later. The first push for moving the Muslim student space and forcing a drive behind finding an Imam for campus was the Bucknell Alternative Delegation. That’s actually something that’s housed in the building I’m living in now. So it was something I pushed for very heavily because I found the conditions they were forced to worship in disgusting. And it becomes a normalized part of experience, which is, I think, the part that is so disheartening [is that] almost every LGBTQ student I know has had some sort of bias even inside the classroom from professors. I know students who have had to file bias incident reports simply to ensure that their grade isn’t curved. This also follows for PoC as well. So it’s consistently challenging at every single level these heteronormative, patriarchal systems of Whiteness that are consistently oppressing our students across the board – both here and at the systemic level. I guess kind of keeping that individual mindset while also being aware of the institutional pressures that exist beyond us is probably the best way to go.

What do you see as your path going forward? Has this event altered or reinforced your path as a person and activist? Where do you see yourself going from here? 

I’m really glad you asked that question, because one of the things that often gets lost in these stories is the individual. It becomes so much of, you know, “PoC Trans Girl Attacked,” and no one really talks about who that trans girl is. I guess in a little bit of that American spirit – maybe that’s where this comes from, as I said to the Fox 56 journalist – it often becomes about the violence we experience, when I believe our accomplishments outweigh that much more. 

I completely changed my career path in 2016 after Donald Trump was elected. I had kind of seen it coming, but I didn’t understand it. There was no way I could comprehend what was going on at the time. I was studying computer engineering – I was hating it – so I switched into political science, and got dragged back into the department to do research with [Professor] Darakhshan [Mir], whom I love immensely, in privacy theory. In the short term, my plans are kind of to get some logistical things together, finish getting my driver’s license so I can actually work jobs like AmeriCorps, finish my research with Darakhshan [and] hopefully get a paper published. We’ve had some publications in the past but we wanted to get that full journal publication rather than just some workshop papers, so that I can solidify some of my applications to Information Science programs for a PhD. I think that that would be probably a good start as a way to do some work that I think makes a real difference before I go into more of that bureaucratic political field that I would like to go into long-term – whether that be three-letter agencies or running for office.

Has this changed my path? I think it’s reaffirmed what I want to do. You know, I’m a tough girl, I’ve been through a lot, and even after that attack, I just couldn’t stop shaking. And it’s really – it’s one of those things where the anxiety from trauma just gets you at a physical level. [After the attack] I was paranoid, I was searching for doors… I just couldn’t understand it. I think that level of empathy will lend well towards the kind of intervention work that is often done by programs like AmeriCorps, and long-term towards being a stronger advocate for these kinds of issues in a way that I don’t think I was really able to before. 

So, call me a silver-linings girl – I always try and take the bad things that I’ve gone through and turn them into good. As I mentioned, I’m physically disabled, and when I was younger I spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals. [I was] dealing with people who just did not understand what it was like to live in my body. People will treat you differently when they see you with a cane or in a wheelchair, which at that point in time I was pretty reliant on. So it certainly, I think, will lend itself towards more passion and descriptive representation towards these issues in whatever way I can lend towards it. Because they simply aren’t talked about enough and, if you’ve seen the comments on the Fox 56 article as I mentioned earlier, people clearly don’t understand. Some people have said that they want to brush this under the rug as a Jussie Smollett-type hoax – those are their words, not mine, and I find the racial comparison disgusting. As I mentioned, it’s very hard to separate these racial elements completely [from the attack].

So, certainly, I think that change happens through a lot of love, a lot of compassion, a lot of hard work, so I’m hoping that I can move in that direction.

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