ASLCC President Paul Zito donned a bra, floral dress and leggings on the first day of Fall term — a milestone for an individual endeavoring into a more comfortable identity.
Zito’s morning started with a nervous dash from his house to his car. He then realized he wouldn’t be able to hide all day and made a point to stop at a gas station.
“I went in and bought cigarettes and coffee and the lady called me ‘love,’ and it was wonderful,” Zito said. “That like set the tone for the day. I don’t know if you call it passing or whatever but she didn’t throw me out of her store and she called me a cute name.”
In his ninth term at Lane and third year in Oregon, he said he feels less risk of ostracization and physical harm expressing his feelings of gender nonconformity in Eugene than in his hometown of Greybull, Wyo.
Zito identifies as transgendered. He has not had surgery to change his gender and hasn’t worn feminine clothing in public in the past. He said he doesn’t know how often he will in the future.
“I finally let people know that when I’m feeling extra feminine and I have a dress on, I prefer the name Shae,” Zito said. “I think that it’s kind of been a part of me forever, so it will be something that will kind of pop out as I’m feeling that way on the gender spectrum.”
His natural inclination toward an unconventional identity is a tendency that shows up in his leadership style, not just his gender. Unlike other presidents, who’ve pushed ASLCC bylaw reform and college affordability, Zito’s two main campaigns as president are opening an on-campus food pantry — the location of which was recently approved by FOOD for Lane County — and financial aid reform.
“Right now, they (the financial aid department) can make any policy or procedural changes they want and just not tell a soul,” Zito said. “I want them to have to operate within the governance structure of our college so that they have to present something to a council, move it to college council and then the Board of Education has to vote on it. It’s the way everyone else operates and there’s no reason why they should be operating outside of that.”
Zito said there is room for individualism within governmental structure.
“I relate to the way of allowing people to find their own path and in order to do that you have to be willing to do battle with bureaucracy to shape those spaces for people,” Zito said.
Political Science Co-op coordinator Steve Candee said Zito’s off-center attitude is refreshing and relatable for students who otherwise may not be interested in student government.
“He’s very inclusive in terms of his approach to student government and trying to do the right thing — the fair thing for everybody,” Candee said.
Candee said he thinks Zito understands the representative nature of his position and cares about representing students and their interests.
ASLCC has collected 1,500 Oregon Student Association surveys to assess the importance of particular issues to students.
Zito said he doubts that varied gender expression will have a serious backlash on his career here.
“Later on, am I going to have problems if I run for public office?” Zito said. “Maybe. I think it’s a new age, and it leaves room for some maneuvering there.”