Supporting Transgender Students in the Writing Classroom: Part I

In my past years of teaching, I was always under an unchecked and unquestioned assumption that my courses were friendly and welcoming to transgender and gender-nonconforming students. I believed (wrongly so) the standards of respect and responsibility I worked to prioritize in the classroom would take care of any situation.

I began to question my assumptions when a friend teaching an LGBTQ course asked me to recommend writing instructors who were supportive of transgender students. I could name lots of instructors off the top of my head who were friendly, and approachable, and understanding…but when I actually stopped to think about actual classroom practices and strategies, I came up short for suggestions.

At that time, I was also toward the end of my work on the WPA committee as the English 101 course coordinator. In my three years on the WPA, I couldn’t remember a single conversation, professional development project, or meeting that posed the question of how to support transgender and gender-nonconforming students. And as I led orientation after orientation for new graduate teaching assistants, I never planned any discussions on this topic, nor had I incorporated it into our meeting agendas or planning.

I’m hoping to make up for this mistake now by writing a few posts that describe how I retooled my classroom for the Fall 2016 semester. This is Part I in a series of posts I hope to release on this site.

The first action I took toward accommodation for transgender and gender non-conforming students was to educate myself and find resources; despite my identification with the LGTBQ+ community, my knowledge about the T and the + was…less than outstanding.

Below, I’ve included a list of articles and resources to help other writing instructors get started with these considerations:

  • One of the first things I learned as I tried to make a more accommodating classroom, was that there were several more non-binary conforming identities than I ever realized. This wiki offers a helpful list. It also reminds readers that some nonbinary gender identities have names that are reclaimed slurs, and some may see these names as offensive or as hate speech.
  • Sherry Zane’s article “Supporting Transgender Students in the Classroom” from Faculty Focus suggests several strategies college instructors may incorporate into their classroom practices. (In a future post, I’ll discuss how I used and revised some of the suggestions for my writing and research course). I highly recommend this source because it is so helpful and practical.
  • Andrea Lunsford has recently published a blog post on “mispronouning” and how it has affected her teaching and writing. She also offers a draft and asks for feedback on a section of her new textbook on pronouns and gender. This may be a useful read to for those who would like to see how these conversations play out in the field of Composition and Rhetoric.

If you have other resources to suggest, please let me know.

More to come on this subject,

KR

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