By Torri Carroll—
Tarleton State University says it strives for equality for gender-nonconforming students through progressive programs and resources. That’s why students are taking part in recognizing Transgender Day of Remembrance on Thursday, Nov. 20.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual memorial founded in 1999 to remember the lives that have been lost due to anti-transgender prejudice. This year, the Tarleton Gay-Straight Alliance is holding an event at the Hunewell Band Stand from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Kyle Carlberg, a transgender student who serves as secretary of the GSA, said they are “planting flowers for everyone that’s in attendance, and we’re putting soil as the foundation to represent every person who’s passed away.”
They will have extra supplies and are welcoming people to join and pay their respects.
Tarleton is home to some 20 or 30 gender-variant students. Being able to feel accepted at a place where so much time is spent is important, the students said. Acknowledgment and acceptance from cisgendered students on campus is essential. Cisgendered is a term used to describe people who match their gender assigned at birth.
According to Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason, Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Tarleton is making progress on reaching equality on its campuses, specifically through including civility as a core value. Seeing civility as a cornerstone of Tarleton serves as a reminder to treat each other with courtesy and respect, despite our differences.
The university is also making headway through the Tarleton Ally Program. Allies help foster a supportive and inclusive environment on campus for LGBT students, and training is open to all students, staff and faculty.
Helvie-Mason suggested attending Ally training to better understand gender-variance and how to be supportive of nonconforming classmates.
She also noted that challenges exist because Tarleton is located in a small town.
“Finding resources within the community outside of Tarleton can be problematic,” Helvie-Mason said. “We are far enough away from larger metropolitan areas that gender-nonconforming students might not be able to get the resources they desire.”
Carlberg agreed the Ally program is an effective resource.
“I feel like a lot of people are really accepting, like my friends,” Carlberg said “I’ve never had any problems with teachers.”
Dr. Beck Munsey, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Counseling at Tarleton’s Waco campus, and Prairie Parnell, Instructor of Communication Studies, said that acknowledgment and acceptance are top struggles faced by gender-variant students and faculty.
“Being accepted for who we are in our gender expression and gender identity, even if it is something others do not understand,” is the biggest issue Munsey, who is gender-variant, sees at Tarleton campuses.
Gender-neutral bathrooms also can be an issue on campuses. Family restrooms in new buildings and renovations serve the trans community well, but Munsey and Carlberg said it can still be an uncomfortable situation.
“I wish there were more gender-neutral bathrooms, because right now my options are pretty limited,” noted Carlberg.
The smaller Tarleton campuses lack options for those who prefer to not use male or female restrooms.
“I do not feel comfortable using the bathroom on any campus. On my campus I can use the single stall restroom for faculty members, but students do not have an option,” said Munsey.
Housing is also getting some updates to accommodate gender-variant students. There is an option on the housing application to learn more about gender-neutral residences, which provides a more welcoming and safer place to live. Parnell suggested that the university keep a close eye on housing issues and track down cases of harassment in the dorms and apartments.
In terms of pronouns and names, each instructor interviewed advises that students reach out to their teachers through email or office hours before a class starts to specify their preferred address. Professors are also encouraged in Ally training to ask students if they would like to go by a different name when they email the syllabus prior to class.
Munsey suggested that perhaps a specific protocol is in order to ensure students feel comfortable addressing name preferences to their professors.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, under Student Success and Multicultural Initiatives, strives to support equality on campus and asks that students and faculty contact them about any gaps they see in the resources they provide.
Munsey urged those who are cisgendered to be “open to your transgendered and gender-variant classmates and be willing to ask questions. I’m more than happy to sit down with someone over a cup of coffee to discuss my experience being gender-variant.”