Dr. Rachel Levitt and Dr. Harlan Weaver, along with their colleague Dr. Cáel M. Keegan from Grand Valley State University, spent spring break in Chicago training the chairs and directors of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies programs from across the United States in how to protect, support, and retain transgender faculty, staff, and students. Their work calls for change at the federal level, the organizational level of the National Women’s Studies Association, the institutional level of individual universities, and the department level of Women’s Studies programs. They were invited by NWSA leadership to present their important and compelling work at the chair’s and director’s meeting after they presented at the organization’s 2018 conference in Atlanta, GA.
Universities are gendered institutions, reinforcing cis-hetero-normativity through policies, practices, and tacit cultural norms, from sex-segregated bathrooms to a lack of trans–competent faculty and medical providers. For students, the struggle can be overwhelming. Transgender students experience high levels of harassment, bullying, and discrimination in higher education. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey in 2017, which surveyed 6,500 transgender people, 35% of those attending college were mistreated, harassed, and bullied, not only by other students, but by teachers and staff as well.
Weaver, Levitt, and Keegan drew from these statistics in their workshop, highlighting the stories and experiences behind the numbers, making a compelling case for a range of trans-related changes needed, not just for transgender students, but also for faculty and staff in university settings. Their work not only draws attention to the pervasiveness of trans-antagonistic campus climates, but also points to the possibilities for changing such climates.