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Neva Knoll Professor Martinez WRT 105 6 October 2017

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A Discussion of Transgender Challenges for the Syracuse University Community

Neva Knoll

Professor Martinez

WRT 105

6 October 2017

The party was full of joy and anticipation. An envelope leaned against an artistically decorated cake that was curiously void of color. Inside the envelope were the ultrasound images that would reveal the gender of the new baby. The parents-to-be carefully cut into the nondescript cake and held up a slice of pink cake! There were oohs and aahs from the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. They now knew exactly what kind of clothes and toys to buy for the new baby. The parents envisioned how the new nursery would look. Everyone was pleased and excited. 


But what if the cake (and the ultrasound) was wrong? What if this new baby was a little boy concealed in a little girl’s body? It happens. It could be that this family will be dealing with a transgender child. Research indicates that approximately .06% of the population born does not identify with the gender of birth. (Flores). Transgender is part of the LGBTQ+ group (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and other binary affiliations) (LGBTQ+Terminology). More people are stepping forward saying, “I am not what my physical body says I am.” This identification is known as transgender and has affected legal, educational, social, medical, and cultural norms. It is important to look at the impact of these changes and how it affects both cisgender and non-binary people.

(photos: N. Knoll)

I have become more aware of the transgender population in recent years. My direct experiences are with three individuals who identify as transgender. 

The first is a child who was identified at birth as female based on the baby’s physical characteristics. By age five, the child refused to wear clothes that weren’t purchased in the boys’ department, had changed her given name to a set of initials, and showed no interest in traditional female-gender activities.


(image: created by N. Knoll with stock photography)

The second is a person who was, at birth, identified as a male. “He” had used a locker next to me throughout my high school years. He was included in our social group, lived across the street from my very close friend, and gave all outward appearances of being a male. 

The week after graduation, he sent an email to his friends indicating that he had been in the process of transitioning genders since the previous January. He started a blog and encouraged us to read about the trials and challenges that brought him to his decision to begin the transition. In the blog, he told us about his new name, that he would be entering college as a female, and some of the details of the transition. We were assured that the person we had known since grade school was still the same person whether male or female. She emphasized that the new transitioned person maintained the same disposition, beliefs, and memories that had been created with us. She wanted to continue the relationships that had been formed. She also said that the relief she felt in being able to share the journey was very freeing to her. I was surprised, but not alarmed, at the news. We remain friends.

"I'm still the same person you knew before."

Finally, the third person I know is a family friend who transitioned as an adult. I actually never knew him as a female because his transition began when I was too young to understand. I have watched as he has struggled to find friends, a career, and a place to live. He has also undergone severe mental health challenges because of his gender identification. He often spends time with our family and we consider him a valuable friend.

None of these three people are in my daily life, but they surface in my thoughts, especially when considering gender ambiguity. There have been several times recently that I have thought about our continuously changing society and appreciated that I have been brought up in the 21st century with a looser definition of gender. I have not been limited to assigning females or males to certain looks or behaviors. 

The reading, Understanding Gender, made a statement: “Masculinity and femininity are equated with certain physical attributes, labeling us as more or less a man/woman based on the degree to which those attributes are present” (Understanding Gender). I feel this statement is not as true as it once was. Growing up in my generation, I was taught to not judge another person by appearance. 

For instance, if I saw someone from behind who had a long pony tail, I didn’t assume that they identified as a female, or that a person with well-developed biceps identified as a male. I have been thinking about what makes a person male or female. “We don’t have legal definitions for “male and “female,” so people are experimenting and creating live definitions of the categories in an evolutionary manner” (Beyer). This quote confirms that our society will continue to adapt to new possibilities with multi-gender. Our knowledge and understanding will strengthen with time as it has already been shown. Hopefully, one day, everyone will feel comfortable with who they are and others will show understanding and acceptance. 

It may seem surprising to think beyond the convention of male and female as descriptors, and it certainly is an interesting discussion with my grandparents, but society is constantly evolving. There was a time not so long ago when people were commonly identified as Italian, Irish, or German. Those identifiers don’t seem to be as important anymore. Maybe soon, gender won’t be a primary classification. But now, to some people, a transgender person is viewed as different. 
I have been thinking about the boy who graduated with me, now a girl. As I begin a new chapter in my life, I wonder how the transition will affect how her story is written. I hope that people will see her for the kind person I know. I began to wonder about gender ambiguity and how it especially impacts colleges and universities. Given that college brings a time of transition for everyone, common living environments, and legal protections, how can colleges and students adapt to evolving gender ambiguity? 

This guidebook provides an overview of the challenges transgender college students face, raises awareness among the university community as a whole, and addresses how higher educational institutions (specifically Syracuse University) are attempting to assure that all students, regardless of gender identification, are afforded a high level education in an environment that nurtures their needs. 

How can colleges and students adapt to evolving gender ambiguity?

(photo: N. Knoll)

(photo: N. Knoll)

Think About It...

Link to Syracuse University's Gender Inclusive Bathroom Map

"Living on a floor with guys is great, but they leave the bathrooms disgusting!  Can't we just designate half of the bathrooms for females and the other half for males?"

(FYI - the answer is "no" because that would go against Residential Housing policy)

Most college students enter their freshman year full of trepidation. It is common to wonder about leaving home, finding a roommate, establishing new social connections, and finding academic success. Transgender students have more areas that cause concern because they have often experienced discrimination and ridicule about their gender identification. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable using public restrooms, shopping for personal items, or their presentation can subject them to harassment and even physical confrontation.

The University of Massachusetts published an article that identified transgender issues on college campuses and suggested specific programming to meet the needs of transgender students (Breemyn).  These recommendations fall under the following areas:


  1. Antidiscrimination policies
  2. Welcoming events and activities
  3. Educational programming
  4. Support services
  5. Special medical services
  6. Safe guards for personal records
  7. Accommodations for daily activities
At Syracuse University, multiple agencies, departments, and organizations have combined resources in order to meet the needs of transgender students. Syracuse University ranks as a top LGBT-friendly school (Go Beyond the Brochure). Syracuse University opened the LGBT Resource Center in 2001 and expanded to include other GLBT groups and organizations. The Center includes Campus Pride which is an award winning online resource for gender and sexually marginalized student. (Go Beyond the Brochure).Based on a review of available resources at Syracuse University, the following policies and practices are in place to address the seven areas. It is an overview of the challenges trans students face, an awareness of how the University community responds to gender expansion, and the areas that still need to be addressed.
1. Antidiscrimination Policies
Syracuse follows the governmental directives including Title IX issues. In May 2016, the Obama administration sent a letter to institutions of higher learning. It is known as a “Dear Colleagues” letter and addresses the rights of students who identify as transgender or non-binary. 

The letter was rescinded by the Trump administration on February 23, 2017. So, there are currently no specific Federal mandates that address GLBTQ+ students (Vogue). 
Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity Policy Statement
The University does not discriminate and prohibits harassment or discrimination related to any protected category including creed, ethnicity, citizenship, sexual orientation, national origin, sex, gender, pregnancy, disability, marital status, political or social affiliation, age, race, color, veteran status, military status, religion, sexual orientation, domestic violence status, genetic information, gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender (Syracuse University Student Handbook Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity Policy Statement).

(photo: N.Knoll)

Preferred Name Policy
Syracuse enacted a Preferred Name Policy which means that a student can enter their chosen name and it appears in student communication sites such as Blackboard, MySlice, and SUMail. Prior to this newer policy, students appeared on class lists and grade rosters under their “official” names (Wang).

(photo: N. Knoll)

Housing Policy
At SU, gender-inclusive housing and gender-neutral bathrooms are still issues that need to be addressed. There is some progress because mixed-sex housing exists on South Campus. Unfortunately, there is no gender-inclusive housing option for first-year students. The Student Life Committee is reviewing the option of designating a gender-neutral floor or building which would be available to incoming freshman (Wang).

(photo: N. Knoll)

(photo: N. Knoll)

Link to The LGBT Resource Center @ Syracuse University web site

(photo: N. Knoll)

2. Welcoming events and activities
Activities for LGBT students are numerous at Syracuse and continuing to be developed. Each fall, the LGBT Resource Center hosts a “Welcome” social and encourages people to meet new friends. Throughout the year, the Center provides many activities which include a Welcome Social, Coming Out Month, the HoliGay, and Trans Day of Liberation. The staff also provides trainings, programming and advocates of LGBTQ+ for all members of the community. At the end of the year, LGBTQ+ graduating students are recognized at The Rainbow Banquet (LGBT Resource Center).

(image: The LGBT Resource Center)

3. Educational programming
Syracuse University offers a minor in the field of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Studies. Students learn about the history of LGBT, the communities, the significance of sexuality and gender (LGBT Studies).
There are classes available that build allyship. One of those is the Safer People, Safer Spaces class. This class encourages community building and explores genders, campus climate, and LGBT-friendly language (LGBT Resource Center).

(image: The LGBT Resource Center)

4. Support services
The LGBT Resource Center and the Counseling Center are available for students. Additionally, Pride Union is an organization that provides a safe space for all students to advocate for the interests of the LGBTQ+ community. Open Doors is for graduate students at SU in the LGBTQ+ community to support them as they approach new stages of their lives. Finally, OutCrowd is an LGBTQ+ publication. The emphasis is to provide a forum for members of the queer community to express opinions that may be overlooked in the general press. It often challenges “socially acceptable” views (LGBT Resource Center).
5. Special medical services
All students are eligible to use the University Health Services. There are several health organizations in Central New York, such as, The Transgender Health Services Network of Central New York. It may be difficult for students to access because of distance. There is a recognized need for therapists, physicians, surgeons, and other medical personnel who have knowledge of the special requirements to serve transgender individuals. This is an area that needs to be addressed.

(Photo: N.Knoll)

6. Safe guards for personal records
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records and also gives current and former students the right to amend those records to match their legal documents if they are “inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the student’s rights of privacy”(Transgender Rights Toolkit).
7. Accommodations for daily activities
Most transgender students identify frequent challenges with daily activities. These include using bathroom and locker facilities, showing identification that doesn’t match their presentation, roommate acceptance, dating, joining sports teams and organizations such as fraternities/sororities, and fielding questions which are invasive to their personal lives. Syracuse University has established practices that try to address these challenges. There are gender-neutral bathrooms and a policy that prohibits discriminating based on gender preference. An institution can only go so far. It becomes the responsibility of the individual to be accepting of all individuals. Syracuse University tries to increase people’s knowledge and understanding of differences through publications, classes, and activities. 

(photo: N. Knoll)

Call to Action
My first six weeks at Syracuse University have significantly raised my awareness of gender and societal issues. Discussion and assignments in my writing, poetry, and transmedia classes; researching Syracuse University policies; my new co-ed living environment; and a reflection on my experiences with transgender people; have caused me to consider gender ambiguity more critically. My experiences with transgender people have led me on a journey to educate myself about the challenges they face and to take actions that demonstrate support for them as individuals. 

Hopefully, this guidebook/discussion helps others become familiar with the challenges transgender people encounter as they enter college and how Syracuse University has taken steps to support their educational, social, and emotional needs. However, it falls on each individual to accept and support all fellow students. I have gathered some suggestions that may help cisgenders who want to support trans people and who want to avoid awkward or insensitive situations.

Refer to people by their preferred name and pronouns, even if the person is not present.

Do not “quiz” them about their former gender, name, or ask to see pictures.

Avoid false compliments such as, “You look like a real girl,” or “I would never have know that you weren’t born male.”

Do not disclose that a person is trans to anyone else without their permission (obtained in advance).

No matter how curious you are or how open a transgender person is, do not ask questions about genitals, surgeries, or personal sexual activity.

Remember that transgender people can be gay or bisexual just like the rest of the population. Don’t assume that you know their orientation.

Try to demonstrate a true understanding of the transgender friend’s new life.

Try not to use a transgender friend as a constant source of education or offer them as a resource to other cisgenders.

(image: The LGBT Resource Center)

There is a T-shirt that says, “Prejudice is a commitment to ignorance.” I hope that this project has helped to increase knowledge about transgender people and the challenges that they face.  I hope that it has raised awareness of how colleges and students are adapting to evolving gender ambiguity in order to provide all students a high level education in an environment that nurtures their needs.  I think about my high school friend who is entering college as a transgender person and I hope that anyone who sees this project becomes more informed and accepting of people who are in her situation.

Glossary of Transgender Terms

Ally Refers to a cisgender person who fully supports the rights of trans people, treats their genders with respect, and actively helps work against transphobia.

Biphobia Prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward bisexual people.

Bisexual A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.

Cisgender A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. Describes a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Gender Dysphoria In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) which replaced the outdated entry "Gender Identity Disorder" with Gender Dysphoria, and changed the criteria for diagnosis. The necessity of a psychiatric diagnosis remains controversial, as both psychiatric and medical authorities recommend individualized medical treatment through hormones and/or surgeries to treat gender dysphoria. 

Gender Expression External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender Identity One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth. Unlike gender expression (see below) gender identity is not visible to others.

Gender Non-Conforming A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. 

Non-binary and/or genderqueer Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual and should only be used if someone self-identifies as non-binary and/or genderqueer.

Queer A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with "LGBTQ."

Trans Used as shorthand to mean transgender or transsexual - or sometimes to be inclusive of a wide variety of identities under the transgender umbrella. 

Transphobia The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, transgender people.

Transsexual An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some people who have permanently changed - or seek to change - their bodies through medical interventions, including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender

Transition Altering one's birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition can include some or all of the following personal, medical, and legal steps: telling one's family, friends, and co-workers; using a different name and new pronouns; dressing differently; changing one's name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) one or more types of surgery. The exact steps involved in transition vary from person to person. 

(Adam, GLADD, GLBTQ+ Definitions, GBLTQ+Terminology)