Unpacking Claudia Tenney’s Comments

Last week, The Maroon-News  published a lengthy profile of Colgate alumna, Claudia Tenney class of ’83, who was elected to represent New York’s 22nd Congressional District last November. In this Maroon-News profile, Congresswoman Tenney makes a few comments that are deeply troubling and saddening.

Tenney’s first troubling comment comes when she expresses surprise that college sexual assault statistics are so high. In and of itself, her surprise is not unique. These statistics are appalling and one should be shocked and horrified by them. However, Congresswoman Tenney attributes her surprise to her belief that Colgate is a place of “higher academics,” apparently implying that academic prestige prevents crimes from taking place. This is deeply troubling. Does this mean places of “higher academics” are special bubbles in which sexual assault does not happen? Tenney must be ignoring statistics and news coverage about sexual assault at elite universities because, time and time again, such coverage shows that reality is much more grim than Tenney conceives it to be.

Furthermore, Tenney tells The Maroon-News that she is “wondering what the phenomenon is,” since she didn’t know of many sexual assault cases during her time at Colgate. Sadly, just because you didn’t hear about it – or didn’t know someone who was a survivor of assault or who didn’t report crimes committed against them – doesn’t mean that these crimes didn’t happen. Statistics from the time period Tenney was a Colgate student, as admirably cited by The Maroon-News, contradict her narrative. Furthermore, Tenney tries to deflect the issue by bringing up the notion of false sexual assault accusations. Unfortunately for Tenney, no matter how you slice or dice statistics, the percentage of fabricated claims has been found to be very low. Overall, Tenney’s tone in this profile is dismissive of real problems faced by college students. This is saddening. I hope that, in reality, Tenney is dedicated to working with universities to improve the situation.

Another one of Tenney’s problematic comments comes from her discussion of transgender rights. Before she shares her comment, she prefaces it by saying she believes that transgender bathrooms in schools is a non-issue. I would argue the opposite, in that it is a huge issue for those who are affected by it. However, I must save my breath for what comes next.

Tenney says, “To me, [transgendered bathrooms are] not the issue. When it gets into dealing with sports and people – my aunt, she played golf her whole life, she can’t win the state seniors because there is a new person who is transgendered … who is going to win … those are the things where I’m like: are we destroying Title IX or are we preserving it?”

This comment is offensive, saddening and poorly-argued. I’m sorry that Tenney’s aunt is troubled that she cannot win a golf competition against a person who identifies as transgender. You know what might be more troubling than losing a golf tournament?  Being shunned from an entire golf tournament altogether because people do not accept you. 

No matter what interpretation of the law one takes, people like Tenney’s aunt will always be able to enjoy a game of golf with a group of people they identify with. People who identify as transgender are not necessarily guaranteed this same right. Even if Tenney disagreed with some aspect of Title IX, the least she could have done was acknowledge the struggles and rights of the transgender community. She could have, at the very least, expressed empathy for the person competing against her aunt. In this profile, however, she does not. I am not transgender, and I do not in any way claim to represent the opinions or feelings of the transgender community. However, as an ally, I can say that I am saddened by Tenney’s comment.      

One can agree or disagree with Congresswoman Claudia Tenney on a number of different issues. That’s okay. That’s democracy. But, as the widely-shared Internet adage goes, “I’ll respect your opinion as long as your opinion doesn’t disrespect someone else’s existence.” Unfortunately, I found Tenney’s comments to be highly disrespectful. We deserve better from our elected representative.