#TransWk: Intern Ryan reports on trans awareness in higher ed

Posted by: | Posted on: November 13, 2013


Ryan here, to speak briefly about the importance of trans awareness in higher education. This topic is actually the subject of my senior thesis research, and it is always filled with surprises. While here at MTPC I am a policy intern, at school I am a student-athlete and in the middle of a social transition. I’d like to think of myself as very logical and objective in this, but I first have to consider myself human and be able to communicate my feelings if I hope to make the best argument for change.

In my research, I have found that the topic of trans inclusion in higher education is scattered; this is likely due to the difficulty in researching the multiple facets of life that intersect and shape what it is to be trans. Or, to rephrase: there is a growing field of trans studies that focus on higher ed, but none of these studies can seem to agree on any single important subfield because the field is still considered new.

Higher education is a strange creature. Since it often breeds social change movements, it has been interesting to see the growth of how trans policies affect the cultural environment. There tends to be a “chicken or the egg” conundrum. Schools without trans advocates are hesitant to make changes (which may welcome some and/or insult others) while schools with loud, visible trans advocates create social modifications, bringing about policy and institutional change. In short: as if it were not hard enough being trans, in order for a school to pay attention and create trans-inclusive policies, the trans students (and vocal allies) have to advocate for those changes themselves.

And I am not just talking about gender-neutral bathrooms, or living with the person/friends of your choice regardless of sex. The margins for social change span the inclusivity of trans-identities in the LGBTQ student organizations, the sensitivity of a school’s career center (for instance, how helpful they are when you’re presenting as Jennifer and all of your school IDs, past job sites, and professors know you only as Jacob), or the attitudes of campus police towards trans students.

Sidenote: if you are an educator, instructor, professor, etc., include trans subjects in the readings; if it does not generate any discussion it means that either no one read the work, or that you teach in a beautiful utopia with non-binary notions of gender instilled in everyone. That’s unlikely, though, so prepare for some interesting questions.

Some departments and certain schools take trans issues as a case-by-case opportunity, which may be swept under the rug for the trustees and higher-ups.  These schools may not have policies “on the books,” but they will work with trans students if and when the need arises. This can make it both good for the school and for the trans students, but it is also understandable as to why a student might still feel ignored or that their full needs are not being met.

It is similar to non-discrimination laws that cover the work place and housing but not public accommodations. Great, I have a job and a place to live but I might be harassed or kicked off the T and prevented from buying a sandwich by some staff member giving me a dirty look and whispering to their co-workers behind the counter.

Just as a diamond saw blade needs water to work most efficiently, we see again and again it is advocacy that brings about policy change. And often, education is required to grease and facilitate the advancement. So for those of you in higher education during this trans awareness week, speak up, be heard, and sparkle!

Comments are Closed