Stony Brook University’s first-year students piled into the Island Federal Credit Union Arena on Wed. Oct. 16 for Commons Day to listen to producer and writer, Janet Mock, the author of the first year reading this year.
Mock’s memoir, “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More” was a required reading for all first-year students for their 101 seminar class. The memoir talks about Mock’s life growing up in Hawaii as well as her obstacles and triumphs as a black, transgender woman. She is the first transgender person to ever speak at Stony Brook’s Commons Day.
“I was just really happy that my book was chosen for Commons Day,” Mock said during a book signing after her speech. “It’s [Commons Day], one of the biggest wide ranging reading initiatives that colleges tend to have and I’m glad to be apart of the tradition.”
Commons Day is a yearly tradition at Stony Brook, where the author of the first year reading comes in to speak to students. Mock spoke about discrimination — specifically the controversy behind Title VII, which is supposed to prevent discrimination based on gender and race — as well as the new Netflix show she directs, “Pose.” Mock was the first trans woman to sign a deal with Netflix, putting the FX show on the streaming service.
“When I first stepped forward with my story, there weren’t many examples of trans women specifically young trans women and trans people of color represented in the media,” Mock said to the audience. “Federally right now, we just saw the arguments from the Supreme Court last week about Title VII, and the fact about whether being LGBTQ whether gender identity and sexual orientation are actually protected under Title VII.”
Mock’s Q&A became even more personal when she connected directly with the students in the audience. Mock called out one student, Derrick Wegner, and commended him for being one of the first openly trans students to transition on Stony Brook’s campus.
“I admire how his leadership and own experiences have shaped the university’s policies which have now helped shape and transform the ways in which trans students are coming in today,” she said. “Derrick’s life is an example of paving a way now that there is a living example from this community but someone who has walked the same hallways has helped transform this space and I wanted to acknowledge the everyday heroes.”
Mock’s appearance also marks the second year in a row a minority speaker has come to speak to first-year students. Last year, Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayer spoke.
The process of picking a Commons Day speaker comes from a committee made up of students and faculty like Anastasia Zannettis, the Assistant Dean and Director of Undergraduate Colleges. Committee members recommend books, looking into ones from big publishers and seeing what other colleges have read for their first-year reading.
“We originally had a recommendation for another book by another trans author, but this book just resonated with the committee,” Zannettis said. “We really try to find a book that connects with our students.”
Zannettis also felt Mock was able to connect very well with all students, not only those who are trans, during her Q&A. First-year students laughed at Mock’s small jokes and applauded some of her responses.
Freshman biology major from the Human Development Undergraduate College, Jennifer Mzobe, became a huge fan of Mock after reading her memoir.
“This entirety of this presentation was very inspiring and impactful,” Mzobe said. “Just hearing her speak gives you the courage and little spark you need to go out there have your voice heard, and being a writer especially, just hearing that, you feel you can embrace and start change.”