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Transinclusion in Teaching

Mon Mar 1, 2021 at 07:30 AM

An often-held belief within inclusive practices and universal design for learning is that designing for people pushed to the margins improves the design for everyone. In teaching, this means that when we recognize ways courses impose restrictions on learning and the conditions that motivate learning, we usually end up with courses that provide more freedom and motivation for everyone.

Scholarly work on transgender experiences in higher education shows how exposing restrictions on gender expression helps inform more inclusive practices. Transgender refers to “people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth.” In November 2020, OU staff Blake Bonkowski, Kayla Jones, Zach Zuchowicz, and Kelli Dowd gave a presentation on Creating Inclusive Spaces for Transgender Students. This panel provided recommendations for how to make classrooms, one-on-one interactions, and online and in-person spaces more inclusive to transgender students. This teaching tip includes these recommendations with links to related CETL resources on inclusive practices.

Tips on Names and Pronouns

Students may change their name for a number of reasons, or want to go by a name different than what appears in their official records. Our previous Student Preferred Name Teaching Tip shares practical tips on how to invite everyone to share their names and pronouns (without requiring one to share pronouns) and the OU policy around preferred names. A good complement to these name inclusive practices are included in the Sharing Audio Name Pronunciation Teaching Tip.

Moodle and MySail. In addition to providing related information in the syllabus, you might also explain that they can change their names in their Moodle Profile and MySail (more information in the Name Services page for direction on all of the places one can change their display name).

Zoom. When holding classes or meetings on Zoom, invite people to update their display name and add pronouns. The process can be done in a meeting with a couple of clicks. While Zoom has a support page on display name, others provide screen shots of how to change displayed name from different devices.

Additionally, consider how names and gender show up in classes and student communications. For example, two University of North Carolina Chapel Hill faculty use a letter of recommendation form for students seeking these letters, which includes an area for students to note their pronouns since they would likely use them in the letter.

Explore Questions of Transgender Perspective in Pedagogy, Course and Discipline

As with learning about other issues in diversity and inclusion, start with self. What do you know about what it means to be transgender in college, in the classroom, and in your field or discipline? How have transgender people and transinclusion efforts improved education and professional fields? 

The Trans Studies in Higher Education Syllabus provides a good starting point on the scholarship that has been developed in this area. Developing a critical awareness will help you recognize practices and spaces that exclude transgender students or miss opportunities to intentionally include them. Below are a few examples of questions or prompts that open opportunities for better inclusion, but the best you can do is to record your own questions and considerations.

  • Be explicit about what “gender” means when you use the word in class. For example, acknowledge when a study refers to gender in binary terms rather than a fuller range of categories. When “gender” issues are discussed, describe whether this is predominantly referring to men or women, and invite students to expand on how gender issues also come into play within the classroom, campus, and greater community and world.
  • Inquire within professional organizations how transgender identity has been discussed and explored, and consider how to incorporate it into into course texts or discussion.
  • If you realize you have made an error in referring to a student (i.e. using a wrong name or pronoun), simply and directly apologize for the error, and continue with class or meeting business. Profuse apologizing or defensive explanations can only increase the discomfort of the situation. If you feel a longer apology or comment is needed, consider a private acknowledgement in a message.

These are some small places to start, and are not at all complete strategies to promote transgender inclusion, but I hope they begin to increase our critical awareness of where barriers exist related to gender norms in our courses. Learn more about the good work being done at OU through the Gender and Sexuality Center, who hosts a huge array of activities during Pride Month, S.A.F.E. on Campus trainings, and more. Faculty and staff are also encouraged to join the LGBTQIA Employee Resource Group, which consists of LGBTQI individuals and allies interested in LGBTQIA issues for employees (administrators, staff, and faculty) at Oakland University.

References and Resources 

National Center for Transgender Equality. (2016). Frequently Asked Question about Transgender People

Nicolazzo, Z. (n.d.) Trans Studies in Higher Education Syllabus

Zane, J. (2016). Supporting Transgender Students in the ClassroomFaculty Focus.

CETL Resources on Inclusive Practices and Diversity

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Thanks to Blake Bonkowski, Kayla Jones, Zach Zuchowicz, and Kelli Dowd for sharing many of these ideas, and Zach and Kelli for reviewing this piece. Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.