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Travelling to trans inclusivity

Published: 17/10/2017

Countdown to #ECU2017

ECU is now counting down to our 2017 annual conference, which is taking place in Birmingham on Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 November 2017.

As part of our countdown we will be publishing blog posts written by speakers, at our conference, between now and the conference itself.

The second post in this series is from Marije Davidson (York St John University) who will be presenting with Nic Streatfield on ‘Travelling to trans inclusivity’ on day one. For more information about this workshop visit our online conference programme.

Travelling to trans inclusivity

At York St John University we have begun our journey towards making it easier for trans people to be themselves, feel accepted for who they are, and get support if they need it. It’s why we recently introduced a Trans Inclusive Framework, setting out policies and procedures and providing a guide to all our staff and students.

As a university located in the heart of York, we attract over 7,000 students from all backgrounds and employ more than 750 staff. We are committed to promoting equality and diversity on campus, and are very proud to have been in the Stonewall Top 100 of LGB-friendly employers for three years in a row.

Like many other universities, we have growing numbers of trans students coming forward, either before they start study or while they are with us. However, we found that students and staff spent a lot of time navigating the system. The publication of guidance by the Equality Challenge Unit and Stonewall triggered our journey to becoming a trans-inclusive university.

Mapping the route

Our first stop was to set up a task and finish group, chaired by the University Secretary, to focus on getting the policy and procedures right and changing systems where we could. This helped us keep the project manageable and will provide a strong foundation to becoming a trans inclusive university.

We quickly realised that we had a lot to learn about: understanding the experiences of trans people, recognising cis-normative language and systems, and how to be supportive not prescriptive (for all students and staff). From a student survey we found how diverse our trans community is, and that transition is very much an individual experience. Very few will have a linear, short process from living with birth name and assigned gender to a chosen name and the gender they identify with.

It really helped us to run trans awareness sessions – over 90 members of staff attended the sessions, and this encouraged many to come to me with observations and practical suggestions. We decided to open the sessions up to students, who contributed greatly with their experiences, and it helped us to connect with them.

Overcoming obstacles

There have been quite a few challenges on the way, including systems that just aren’t geared towards gender diversity for example; managing students’ expectations about what we could, or could not, do; protecting privacy of students and staff.

We have not quite resolved everything. But four meetings of the task and finish group, two trans awareness sessions, two surveys, one consultation meeting and three drafts later, we’ve got a Trans Inclusive Framework that we’re pretty proud of. Our journey is still ongoing – our focus is on making students and staff aware of the Framework, and our first pit stop is to tackle gender-neutral toilets.

At York St John University, we continue to drive forward the equality agenda for our students and staff and look forward to sharing our experience at the ECU conference 2017. My colleague Nic Streatfield and I will be discussing essentials to pack for the journey, who needs to get on board, bumps in the road and where to go next. Universities are all at different stages of the journey, and following different routes. We value the opportunity to learn how other Universities are going about creating a trans inclusive environment and supporting trans individuals.

Marije Davidson
York St John University

The views and opinions in this blog post reflect those of the authors and not Equality Challenge Unit.