How trans-inclusive is ASU?

The University has made strides to help its LGBT+ students feel welcome, but students say some improvements still need to be made

According to the ASU charter, the University is "measured not by whom it excludes, but rather by whom it includes and how they succeed,” and as more and more students are identifying as LGBT+ the demand for this inclusivity continues to increase.

Twelve percent of millennials identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming, double that of Generation X, according to a 2017 GLAAD study.

University officials, students and faculty have recently made strides to accommodate the ASU's growing trans population. Students said these efforts have been invaluable, but there is always room for improvement and further inclusion, particularly for a community whose identity is still in question.

The University has multiple resources to help transgender students feel more welcome including gender-neutral bathrooms, gender-inclusive housing, counseling and health services, Pride Week and Trans Awareness week events each semester and a faculty guide for transgender student inclusion authored by transgender and trans-allied students.

Kellyn Johnson, former advisor for Rainbow Coalition and current director for student and cultural engagement at ASU, said many recent University developments involving trans-inclusive policies are due to the creation of a trans-inclusion working group.

The group brings together students and faculty members to examine what issues impact transgender students, like a need for LGBT+ education among staff and students, and how the University can help solve them. 

She attributed the redevelopment of the Out@ASU page to the group. The site hosts a list of campus resources for LGBT+ students, including a transgender resources page and links for both the counseling and health services.

The page also features a wide range of information including LGBT+ scholarships, a list of majors relating to gender and sexuality and a list of on-campus workshops that deal with LGBT+ issues.

SafeZone, one of the workshops featured on the list, is available for organizations at ASU to increase general campus awareness of issues faced by members of the LGBT+ community.

Johnson said the creation of ASU’s faculty guide was particularly exciting.

The faculty guide advises professors on ways to make trans students feel welcome in the classroom, like including pronouns in email signatures, sending emails prior to the start of the semester to get each student’s preferred name and pronouns and adding a syllabus statement outlining the professor’s dedication to classroom trans-inclusivity.

“It’s incredible, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen at any other institution,” she said. “Because what these students did was say ‘These are steps you as a faculty member can take to affirm my identity in the classroom experience, both in person and online.’”

There is currently no information available on how many faculty members actually utilize these practices, but Johnson said the guide is shared widely among ASU faculty and staff.

There is also an unofficial peer-to-peer guide, authored by some of the same students who wrote the faculty guide, that is distributed among trans students. The guide features resources on notifying professors of preferred pronouns and names as well as tips on how to build or find support systems within the ASU community.

Another resource listed on the site is Campus Pride, a website which compiles an index of colleges and rates them based on their LGBT+ inclusivity. While Campus Pride is listed as an ASU student resource, ASU is not currently on that list.

Johnson said this is because the University is more focused on building campus resources than it is making off-campus entities aware of those resources.

"We want to ensure we are best supporting our students here and now, which is ultimately my number one priority — that every student I encounter and work with is feeling affirmed and supported by the institution," she said. 

Leo Cevallos, an ASU freshman studying applied biological sciences and a member of TransFam at ASU, grew up in rural West Virginia and said he feels more comfortable expressing his gender identity at ASU than he did in the conservative environment he grew up in back home.

“Coming to ASU and coming out to a whole group of people was absolutely exhilarating," he said. "It was a clean slate. No one knew my old name, no one knew my old gender, so it worked out very well.”

Julie Tjalas, an ASU junior studying film and media production and president of TransFam, said her experience with ASU's trans-inclusivity has been surprising.

"It's been mixed but mostly positive," she said. "It's definitely safer than I thought it'd be."

Tjalas said that one of the main complaints she hears from fellow TransFam members is being misgendered or deadnamed by professors, though she recognized that steps, like the faculty guide, are being taken by the University to stop it from happening.

Some professors use a sign-in sheet that allows each student to note their name and pronouns on the first day of class, but not every faculty member is so accommodating.

Johnson said the implementation of a directory display name change option on the University database will further help protect trans students from being misgendered by faculty and peers.

“Any student is now able to email the registrar and say ‘I’m listed as (this gender), but I go by (this gender identity), please update my directory listing,’” she said. “And then what happens is that the student directory listing is updated, so that’s how they’re located in the directory, that’s how they’re located on Blackboard and Canvas­ – which is huge – and that’s how they’re identified through all of their emails, whether it’s Outlook or Gmail.”

However, Gabbz Keranen, an ASU sophomore studying conservation biology and ecology, said that slip-ups or microaggressions committed by authority figures like professors may still often go unreported by transgender students because they fear retribution. 

Additionally, correcting someone and outing oneself as trans could pose danger or even death for some trans individuals.

“You don't know how professors feel on certain issues, so there's no way of knowing how they're going to react,” they said. “Everyone's biased and you just have no way of knowing.”

Keranen said they want more University professors to take steps outlined in the faculty guide to ensure transgender students won’t have to face a week of deadnaming and misgendering at the start of every semester.

“Whenever a professor says that we can tell them our pronouns, it always is an indicator that they're more inclusive and accepting and that's always helpful,” they said. “It makes everyone feel safer in the classroom.”

For Tjalas, one of the only negative experiences she has had on campus was with her dorm community advisor when she was a freshman.

“She basically … walked across the dorm and asked all the other girls if they were comfortable with 'the transgender' using the girl's bathroom, which was pretty (disheartening),” she said.

The University has implemented a gender inclusive housing option for students in the hopes of giving trans and gender-nonconforming students a more comfortable living environment.

Keranen said one of their primary motivators for coming to ASU was the gender inclusive housing option. They said living in the gender inclusive housing makes them feel safer on campus because it means they will have a roommate who also chose that option.

“It’s always helpful to have someone like me nearby,” they said. “If I’m having a bad day, they’d understand.”

Across its four major campuses, ASU has also installed gender-neutral bathrooms in over 80 buildings. The University’s interactive map has a checkbox that highlights the location of every gender-neutral bathroom on each campus.

Cevallos said he has utilized ASU’s counseling services and started hormone replacement therapy, often shortened to HRT, through one of the University’s doctors.

“I was really surprised when I started looking into a medical transition,” he said. “I was worried I'd have to go to some sort of … middle of nowhere, black market ... but no, this guy is right on the Tempe campus in the Health Services building.”

Tjalas said her experiences with University health services have also been positive.

“They’re very inclusive, very open and very helpful,” she said. “They talked me through, when I was still closeted to my parents, how to get information without it being listed on insurance.”

There are also numerous LGBT+ clubs at ASU that strive to support students in the community including the umbrella organization Rainbow Coalition, TransFam and Qmunity on the Tempe campus, Confetti on the downtown Phoenix campus, Spectrum on the West campus and PRISM on the Polytechnic campus.

“(TransFam) is a very casual social club,” Tjalas said. “It’s mostly focused on just getting students together and talking about resources, and for those who haven’t come out giving them the courage and advice on coming out or, if they don’t want to come out, then just giving them a place that they can be themselves.” 

There are also specialized, major-related LGBT+ clubs like OUTLaw at ASU, oSTEM at ASU and InQUEERy at ASU.

Cevallos said that while University faculty and facilities have made him feel comfortable, he’s had some trouble with well-meaning but uninformed students asking invasive questions.

“I've had some people ask me about why I looked like a chick or ‘Why do you have hairy legs?’" he said. “But mostly it wasn't out of hatred, it was just misunderstanding.”

Johnson said she’s noticed massive support for the changes made by the University in the past few years and faculty members seem eager to continue improving.

“I think there’s a huge, overwhelming desire to do the right thing,” she said. “So now it’s a matter of how are we ensuring that all of our systems are doing that?”


Reach the reporter at mrobbin9@asu.edu or follow @MelissaARobbins on Twitter.

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