Reflection and Connection: Lee DePue ’22 elaborates on passion for geology, trans experience on campus, community and relaxation provided by WCWM Radio

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ADITHI RAMAKRISHNAN / THE FLAT HAT

One frigid night, Lee DePue ’22 camped out in a tent beside the Crim Dell and counted goats.

DePue, a geology major, volunteered as part of a campus environmental reclamation project to restore native species in the Crim Dell. Part of the initiative involved the arrival of goats to the College of William and Mary campus with the purpose of eating the particularly resilient non-native invasive species in the area. DePue’s job was to make sure all the animals were accounted for over the course of the night.

“It was 40 degrees; it was wet; it was cold; it was gross,” DePue said. “I was in a tent close to Sadler, waking up every couple hours to count goats, and I just remember thinking, ‘I volunteered to do this because this is something I believe in. This is absolutely absurd, and I love it so much and I’m so happy that I’m here.’”

DePue reflects on his overnight foray into goat-herding as one of the defining moments of his time at the College so far.

“I just feel like that was the most funny but also the most meaningful William and Mary experience,” DePue said. “That was a really big deal for me.”

Initially, DePue was deeply passionate about environmental science, but his interest in geology specifically began to arise following his transition to the College as a freshman.

“From the time I was about 14, I was really interested in environmental science, and then I roll up to William and Mary, and I realize that environmental science kind of encompasses a lot,” DePue said. “It’s science, but it also does involve a lot of policy and a lot of theory. I realized that I loved the nitty gritty STEM side of it, and to me, that was better carried out through geology.”

DePue went to West Virginia for an overnight camping trip with the geology department at the start of his freshman year. At the time, he was a prospective geology major, still trying to identify an area of interest, but the bonding he experienced as part of the trip convinced him that geology was the field he wanted to pursue.

“People say, ‘Oh, my department feels like a family,’ but it genuinely felt like a family,” DePue said. “I realized that all these people cared about me, and wanted to look out for me, and also cared about the stuff I was interested in. People looked out for me, and that was a really big deal. That’s when I realized that that was my department.”

Geology’s ability to convert quantitative data into a qualitative analysis of the Earth’s geological history is the aspect of the field that DePue enjoys most.

“My favorite part of geology is being able to take a big set of data and put it into a graph,” DePue said. “It’s the translation, so pointing at it and saying yeah, that’s a big sloping polynomial curve, but what it means is when people dammed up this mill in the 1760s, this level of accumulation did this. Or pointing at a chart, and saying, see that jump in the data? That was a hurricane in 1980. Taking that really quantitative STEM stuff and making it tell a story about the earth is just so cool, and that’s what I really love.”

DePue was formerly the transgender and nonbinary affairs chair for Rainbow Coalition, and he is passionate about expanding the resources available for trans students on campus based on his own experiences.

“My experience as a trans person on campus has been really varied,” DePue said. “I get misgendered a lot, daily, on campus, and it’s not always from who you’d expect. I’ve had theater professors misgender me, and people tend to assume more artsy majors are more liberal. … The geology department has a really strong initiative to embrace LGBT identities and trans identities specifically, which was a surprise for me, and honestly one of the reasons I’m in the department.”

While DePue faces frequent misgendering on campus, he does feel that the College environment offers a safe space where he feels comfortable bringing up conversations regarding gender identity.

“Luckily, I feel like campus is a space where if I have had issues of people acknowledging my identity, I feel safe talking about it, which is very nice,” DePue said. “Any time I’ve had not even a conflict, but just a professor not understanding my pronouns or where I’m coming from, I’ve felt like I’m able to have that discussion with them.”

In collaboration with the Counseling Center and Rainbow Coalition, DePue helped establish a confidential trans support group on campus.

“The trans support group meets at the Counseling Center every other week and is facilitated by a therapist from the counseling center,” DePue said. “It’s just a really nice, supportive place to talk about things we have in common and things that we might need to vent about.”

DePue spoke to the importance of the support group as an environment for trans students to feel comfortable sharing their feelings in a community of listeners who are going through similar experiences.

“It’s nice to have a place that is designated as friendly to trans mental health, because there are a lot of myths surrounding it and a lot of stigma,” DePue said. “Sometimes, it can be hard in a more vague or general space to talk about trans-specific issues in terms of support, especially if you’re in a group that isn’t all trans people. So, this is a nice space to be with trans and nonbinary and gender-nonconforming folks and to discuss issues, or even triumphs that we all share.”

DePue feels that perception of trans individuals is often dominated by the stereotype that the trans experience is characterized primarily by struggle.

“A lot of trans narratives, especially defined by cis people, is that your transness is defined by your suffering; it’s all about, ‘I am unhappy, so I need medical care,’ or ‘I hate my body, so I need to change it,’” DePue said. “A lot of trans people — and I subscribe to this mentality — are trying to deal more in things like gender euphoria, or recognizing that we don’t wish that we weren’t born trans … just finding more pride in our identities, as opposed to having them defined solely through the ways that they make us uncomfortable.”

When DePue applied to the College, he reached out to Residence Life in order to find out what his accommodations would be as a trans student. The initial response he got back left him feeling less than satisfied.

“I said, ‘Hi, I’m a trans student, I’m applying … what are my options for housing?’ and they said, ‘Call us back when you get in,’ and cut me off,” DePue said. “I felt like they just thought I was obnoxious and overbearing. I think it’s reasonable when you’re applying to a school to want to know what the resources are.”

After moving in, DePue’s experience with housing hasn’t been ideal, and he wishes that living options on campus were more accommodating of non-cisgender students.

“Part of me wishes it was easier; it was kind of a bummer to be on an all-girls’ hall, and I still am, because legally, there’s an ‘F’ on my birth certificate and that’s not going to change any time soon,” DePue said. “I have a friend at a different university and there’s a dorm that’s specifically for LGBT-identified people, so it’s not sorted by gender. I think that’d be really nice.”

DePue lived with a gender-affirming roommate during his freshman year. He is appreciative of the accommodations he was able to work out through Student Accessibility Services, as well as the care that was taken with his situation once he chose to attend the college.

“Never at any point in my housing was I asked to get a letter from a therapist or to say how long I’d been trans — there was never a moment when the admin asked me to prove it, and as someone who is currently seeking trans medical care, that happens,” DePue said. “Even though I wish trans people didn’t have to jump through hoops to live somewhere they were comfortable; I think that the process at least for me was done in a way that I felt was very respectful of my identity.”

DePue has been a student DJ as part of WCWM since his freshman year. He initially joined the organization as an outlet for his interest in public speaking, and to play music that he enjoyed.

“I was a theater kid in high school for a really long time, and I knew that I wanted to do something public speaking or performance-based as an extracurricular,” DePue said. “I decided to play 80s alternative music, because it’s what I’m into.”

DePue’s radio show, Doc Walkman, is a personal outlet, but it is also a way for DePue to stay connected with his family across the country.

“My grandparents in Connecticut started listening to my radio show, because WCWM streams online,” DePue said. “My mom and I got really close, because we had a lot of family hardship the summer before coming to college, and I always pick my radio show every semester at a time she’s not at work so she can listen.”

DJ-ing for WCWM is a calming experience for DePue and gives him an opportunity to lose himself in the music he loves for an hour, regardless of whatever else he is going through.

“I have an anxiety disorder, and sometimes that can be really hard to deal with,” DePue said. “Having a hobby that’s just me sharing things that make me happy has been so meaningful, and it really gives me something to come back to. No matter what’s going on in my life, no matter how down I feel, I can sit down in that station for an hour, play exactly what I want, talk about things that make me happy and know that people care and listen to it.”

DePue is appreciative of the LGBTQ+ community on campus, and the support it has given him in discovering the best way for him to identify with and express his identity.

“Especially in my high school, there was a very small LGBT community; not all of us were out, and we were very visible to the point where sometimes it was kind of isolating,” DePue said. “Just the fact that people are comfortable with all different levels of expression regarding their identities has made me feel really secure.”

DePue is still searching for a balance when it comes to outward expression of his LGBTQ+ identity, and the College’s LGBTQ+ community has played a large role in helping him find it.

“Coming into college, I thought it was all or nothing; I thought I was either going to have to be really stealth or closeted, or waving rainbow flags and running around every day,” DePue said. “Being in the community here has made me realize that this could be a beautiful part of my identity, but it doesn’t have to completely define me. Here, my identity does not solely define me, and that’s a huge relief.”