8 ways to make classrooms welcoming to transgender students

The Trump administration is considering establishing a narrower definition of gender under Title IX, according to a memo obtained by the New York Times. The proposal suggests that "sex means a person's status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth," according to the memo, which was drafted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

If this definition were adopted, it could be more difficult for transgender students to raise complaints of sex discrimination at colleges, reports Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed.  

This news—coupled with the 2017 decision by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice to reverse protections for transgender students—has likely left many students on your campus feeling vulnerable, confused, and angry.

But even before these rollbacks were proposed, transgender students faced challenges navigating college campuses, writes Z Nicolazzo, an assistant professor of transgender studies in education at the University of Arizona, for Inside Higher Ed.

For higher ed leaders who want to support transgender students on their campuses, Nicolazzo recommends several strategies to help create a welcoming environment.

1: Recognize the power of a name. Transgender students report discomfort when faculty use their legal name instead of their preferred name. And because it can be difficult for students to change their name within the institution, allowing students to name themselves within the classroom can have a big impact, writes Nicolazzo. Nicolazzo recommends asking students if there are any discrepancies between the names on the roster and the names students use—especially before calling roll.   

2: Use student-specified pronouns. Assure students they can use the pronouns they feel most comfortable with in your class, writes Nicolazzo. And let students know if there are ways to make name or pronoun changes administratively.

3: Consider the necessity of transgender-inclusive facilities. Transgender students ranked gender-neutral restrooms as the most important resource on campus in a recent survey by Clark University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. So Nicolazzo suggests that professors "demand to [teach] only in buildings with transgender-inclusive restrooms." If that's not possible, Nicolazzo recommends listing the closest gender-neutral restrooms on the syllabus.

From our experts: How to create gender-inclusive restrooms on campus

4: Pull from transgender resources. When compiling course texts and creating your syllabus, be sure to include transgender voices. "Even if your class is not focused on gender, it’s still important to draw on diverse knowledge bases, which includes transgender communities," writes Nicolazzo.

5: Educate yourself. "Don’t expect transgender students to teach you about all things transgender," writes Nicolazzo. It can be exhausting for your transgender students. Plus, there is a wealth of information out there about the transgender experience.

6: Protect your students' safety and privacy. Just because a student discloses their gender identity to you doesn’t mean you should talk about or share that information with others, Nicolazzo points out. "Being out is not always the safest or best option for them." And if you notice transphobia or hear transphobic comments in or outside the classroom, say something, writes Nicolazzo. "Educators need to create classrooms where those sorts of violent statements are not tolerated." After all, when transgender students experience harassment, they often leave college.

7: Remember that transgender students are more than their gender identity. "Remember not to flatten us to our gender, as this becomes exhausting and limits our possibilities," writes Nicolazzo. Engage with students around their other interests and experiences.

8: Be patient with yourself. Commit to "learning and implementing gender-aware practices," writes Nicolazzo. But recognize that unlearning gender socialization takes time. And if you make a mistake, own up: "Owning those mistakes and then not making them again is essential," notes Nicolazzo (Green et al., New York Times, 10/21; Nicolazzo, Inside Higher Ed, 10/12; Jashik, Inside Higher Ed, 10/22).

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