Diversity Dialogues: Transgender Inclusion, sponsored by the Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE), discussed inclusivity in society and within the Slippery Rock community.
Keisha Booker, the assistant director of multicultural development, and Kemoni Farmer, a graduate assistant for multicultural development, facilitated the discussion.
The third Diversity Dialogue began with a working definition of the term “transgender.”
“An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.”
To engage conversation, Booker created breakout rooms for the participants to discuss two questions: “How does our university welcome and support transgender students? Is there planned programming specifically on transgender inclusion?” and “Imagine you are representing SRU at a college fair. How would you communicate our diversity and inclusion efforts – especially efforts around transgender inclusion to prospective students?”
Students discussed the quiet room within the Women’s Center and Pride Center, the various support groups on campus, and the array of university clubs that promote diversity.
“The last [exercise] showed me that a lot of the transgender inclusion on campus is more subtle than other types of inclusion, such as the preferred name policy or the bathrooms,” Samantha Cox, a participant, said. “It can be huge to those groups of people. It’s that double-edged sword of there isn’t outward support, but there are smaller things that mean a lot to the community.”
The majority that discussed recruitment at a college fair said that they would ask for pronouns.
Cox said that something that could help would be breaking down the barrier of providing one’s own preferred pronouns, such as Cox does in her Zoom name.
“Some transgender people don’t feel comfortable giving their transgender pronouns because it outs them,” Cox said.
Moving the conversation forward, Booker asked, “what constitutes transgender allyship to you?”
Caroline Sears said that allyship to her would be standing up for someone.
“A lot of times people don’t like standing up for themselves because it puts them in a vulnerable position, but if someone uses a dead name (referring to someone by their legal name, instead of their preferred name), you can say ‘hey they actually go by this now,'” Sears said.
Similarly to Sears, Cox said that one should also use correct pronouns and the correct name when the person is not around.
Booker agreed and led to a question about how gender norms played a role in the understanding of the transgender community.
A participant, Rebecca, said that gender norms made her think that somebody has to be a certain amount of feminine to be a transgender female.
“You can present [yourself] however you want, it’s just how you feel,” Rebecca said.
Gender norms were ingrained in some of the participants’ childhoods, including Bookers.
“Gender norms were so ingrained in my childhood and TV, rejecting typical gender norms was able to help me understand what I was missing or placing on other people,” Booker said.
Similarly, Olivia Griffin, a participant, grew up in a rural school where gender norms were the norm.
“It was difficult to separate myself from and pull away from that,” Griffin said. “I am cisgender, but gender norms don’t bother me that much because I’m not struggling with my gender.”
Not only were gender norms discussed, but the idea of including transgender and LGBTQ into society was also brought up.
Lyosha Gorshkov, the assistant director for the Women’s Center and the Pride Center, said that Black Lives Matter (BLM) has not included LGBTQ into their agenda.
Agreeing with the idea that transgender needs to be included in the community, Desolina Valenti, a participant, said that there needs to be more work to make transgender more included.
Not only is the omission of transgender people something seen within the broad community, but according to Cox, it is also seen within the LGBTQ movement.
“The LGBTQ movement has tried to spearhead it with white LGBTQ people, even though it was started by two black transwomen,” Cox said. “I see it within the community.”
Delving deeper within the community, Joey Sciuto, a participant, said that he could also see it as a playground mentality with intersectionality.
“I am a white, gay man, but I am higher on the totem pole than a trans-black woman,” Sciuto said.
Forwarding the conversation, Booker asked participants to discuss the phrase “trans rights are human rights”.
Booker said that sometimes people forget the phrase, and asked how one would advocate for the universal thought.
“If you are choosing who you are going to treat with dignity whether or not they are trans or what their sexual orientation is, then that is on you,” Gabriella McAdams, a participant, said. “That is an issue within yourself.”
Sears said that historically, people do not like others who are different and breaking the status quo.
“It’s a universal thought of accepting people who are different,” Sears said.
Focusing the conversation towards Slippery Rock, Booker asked what policies or programs the participants would like to see the university create to be more inclusive of the transgender community.
Bailie Fleming, a participant, and Cox mentioned the idea of a workshop or training, explaining the difference between gender identity and gender expression.
“It would be nice for people to learn since it is an overshadowed thing with parts of diversity,” Cox said.
Griffin said that little things could help make a difference, such as having an area on students’ ID badges for their pronouns.
Participants agreed with the multitude of ideas that were brought up.
At the end of the discussion, Booker said that that night was about having a conversation.
“I think that is the only way to start moving towards change, and it was a way to start building a more inclusive community,” Booker said.
The next Diversity Dialogue will occur Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. discussing voices behind the movement. Students and faculty can find more information through CORE.