Witness in Residence Initiative

The impact of transition for a transgender individual extends far beyond the self to their families, friends, colleagues and community. UNC Charlotte’s Aliaga-Buchenau Witness in Residence Initiative in 2019 hosted a community conversation that explored transgender lives in the context of family, friends and communities. The community conversation began at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, at The Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City (320 E. 9th Street, Charlotte 28202). The Witness in Residence Initiative was paused for several years after the COVID-19 Pandemic and resumed in the Fall 2023 semester. In 2023, the program was selected to be part of the updated General Education course plan that strengthens the University experience for undergraduate students by integrating course content from global and local perspectives in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

The Witness in Residence Initiative seeks to encourage conversations about issues pertaining to human rights and social justice in the U.S. and globally. Previous initiatives have focused on the death penalty, on Syrian refugees in the U.S., and on life in Communist East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The witnesses in the April 9 conversation were:

  • Matthew Rice, a transgender man living in Charlotte who has conducted research on HIV/AIDS in the transgender community in San Francisco and now teaches science in a local high school. He is a board member for Time Out Youth, a local organization that provides a safe space for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) teens.
  • Debra Hopkins, a transgender woman who is an ordained minister, a motivational speaker and teacher who addresses issues of gender equality. She is director of There’s Still Hope, a transitional home for the trans community established to help end homelessness in Charlotte. Ms. Hopkins has written a memoir, Not Until You Have Walked in My Shoes – My Story.
  • Debra Bercuvitz, a lifelong lesbian who has been partnered with a transman for 27 years, has published and spoken extensively about this experience to college and national audiences. Her relationship transition was documented as the cover story of the New York Times magazine in October, 2001. Debra holds a master’s degree in public health from UNC-Chapel Hill and lives in Massachusetts. She coordinates substance use interventions for the Department of Public Health’s maternal and child health bureau.

In addition to the public conversation, the three met and talked with students and faculty at UNC Charlotte and other area universities and high schools as a part of the initiative.

Earlier Programs

  • ​Conversations about the death penalty were the focus of the 2018 Witness in Residence Program, featuring Henderson Hill, executive director of the national organization 8th Amendment Project.
  • Syrian refugees Zubair Rushk and Amira Elamri shared their stories of life in Syria and a refugee’s long road to building a life in the United States in the Spring of 2017.
  • In the spring of 2016, the inaugural Witness in Residence program hosted Mario Rollig and featured a series of lectures, film screenings on Communist East Berlin.