When it comes to supporting trans students on campus, access to bathrooms is just the tip of the iceberg. How are you and your colleagues working to affirm and advocate for trans students on your campus? We spoke with Luca Mauer, co-creator of the Teaching Transgender Toolkit, to find out.
Meg: Hey y’all, it’s Meg Sunga and welcome to Will There Be Food, the student affairs podcast that like your job is so much more than free pizza. Every week, we get to explore a new topic in higher ed with humans in the industry. Over the last few years, the number of trans students on college campuses has been on the rise. While increased visibility is awesome and much needed, this doesn’t mean it’s without its challenges. According to campuspride.org, more than 90% of two and four year institutions in the United States remain completely inaccessible and inhospitable to transgender students. On today’s episode, we’re talking to an expert about how SA pros can affirm and advocate for trans students on campus. Joining us today is Luca Mauer. Luca is the director of the center for LGBT education, outreach and services at Ithaca college. Luca, thank you for joining us today.
Luca: Thank you for having me.
Meg: Absolutely. So I want to let you know I stalked to you a little bit on social media. Um, and I read in your bio that according to campuspride.org, that Ithaca is actually one of the, ah, 25 best campuses in the nation for LGBT students and one of the top 10 transgender-friendly colleges nationwide. That is awesome. And I just have to say that, so congrats.
Luca: Thank you. Yes, that’s, that’s very true. And, uh, we’re very proud of that and that represents, uh, not just, not just the work of me and my office and the students who are engaged in the services that we provide through the LGBT center, but, but the efforts of people all over campus who want to make sure that our campus is doing everything it can to make sure that all of our students can avail themselves of everything that, that our college has to offer.
Meg: I love that. And that’s so awesome. You have the supportive staff and the administration from the top down to be able to have that. Luca. Um, for those listening to Will There Be Food, we like to sometimes do some quick debrief in terminology.
Meg: Um, and for anyone who’s not familiar with transgender terminology, can we do like a quick primer together and go through some terms?
Luca: Absolutely, I’d love to.
Meg: Perfect. So Luca, what does transgender mean?
Luca: The word transgender is an adjective and it’s used to describe a person whose gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. So “transgender” also serves as an umbrella term to refer to the full range of the diversity of identities within and across transgender communities. It’s currently one of the most widely used and recognized terms and it just describes the experience that some people have of, of having a gender identity that isn’t congruent or doesn’t match the sex, the sex they were assigned at birth, the gender corresponding to that sex.
Meg: So what does cisgender mean?
Luca: Cisgender is a word that not as many people are familiar with. Cisgender is also an adjective. And simply put, it describes a person whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Another words, cisgender is a fancy word that might be handy during Scrabble. Um, that describes the experience of not being transgender.
Meg: Got it. Okay. And this one is usually one that pops up that people have a lot of questions about. What is genderqueer?
Luca: Sure. Genderqueer is a word that has had a rise in popularity over the last few years, but it’s been around for a very long time. In fact, there were a couple of books that use the word genderqueer in their title 20 maybe 25 years ago. So it’s a word that’s been around for a very long time and it’s currently enjoying a resurgence in terms of ways that it might resonate for some, particularly for some young people today, genderqueer is a word that refers to a person whose gender identity is neither male nor female or is between or beyond genders or is some combination of genders. So it’s a way to describe an experience of gender that is not beholden to the, the binary ways of thinking that we particularly in, in here in the United States have and can describe a variety of different gender experiences.
Meg: Okay. So was that similar or different to gender nonconforming?
Luca: So, uh, there, that’s a great question. Gender nonconforming describes a person whose gender expression is perceived as being not consistent with cultural norms that people expect for a person of that gender. So it’s a little bit different. So specifically boys and men who aren’t perceived by others as being masculine enough or who are feminine, um, or girls and women who are perceived by others as um, not being feminine enough. Not all transgender people are gender nonconforming though. And not all gender nonconforming people identify as transgender. So gender nonconforming has to do with the way a person expresses their gender. Gender identity has to do with the way a person knows themselves to be in their, in their heart, their mind, and their soul. And sometimes people share their identity outwardly. Sometimes they don’t — either because they’re a more private person or because they are making careful decisions to safeguard their safety. Um, but it’s, it’s a common confusion. Cisgender people can also be gender nonconforming. So being gender nonconforming is really often inaccurately confused with gender identity and even sometimes sexual orientation.
Meg: Sure, sure, sure. And then I think the last one is, and you’ve touched upon it just a minute ago, um, but what exactly is gender non-binary?
Luca: Ah, that’s a great question. Folks with non-binary gender identities have gender identities across a continuum or spectrum that are often based on rejecting the assumptions of a gender binary… um, that gender is strictly either or male, female, masculine, feminine, sort of a setup. And there are many different words that people might use to express their non-binary gender identities, so words like some people might use the word genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, bigender, pangender. And so non-binary folks with non-binary gender identities, um, have a gender identity that is across or outside or more complex then the… what the gender binary setup would assume.
Meg: Gotcha. Oh yes.
Luca: You wanna do that again? [both laugh]
Meg: Oh one more time! Yeah, no, what I love is that, I think it’s one of those things like, “I think I know what this is, you know, I’m in student affairs. I’m hip, I’m, you know, I’m going to do air quotes that no one can see cause it’s a podcast. I’m like kind of woke. Oh, I hate that word. Um, but yes, you know, I try to stay abreast on all of these terminologies, but when things are changing constantly and in flux, like I want to make sure that I do have the most accurate description of everything. So thank you.
Luca: Of course. And let me just say, I mean again, one of the wonderful things about human beings is that the way that we use language changes. Language is a living document. And that means new words can be invented out of nowhere that describe people’s experiences and ways of being in the world. And that also means there can be words that have been around for a very long time and their meanings may shift and change because contemporary folks today may find that they want to use them in different ways than folks did before we were around. And again, that’s, that’s, that can be tricky and complicated. I also think it’s part of the messy wonderfulness of being a human being. And I think when it comes to gender and gender identity and sexual orientation, one of the most powerful tools that we have available to ourself is the ability to, to use and change and make up words to describe who we are in the world. And that’s a very, very powerful.
Meg: Yes, we have that in our… as ammo to be able to articulate the feelings and the experiences that we’re going through. I love that. I’m always nervous though. I, I’m not gonna lie to you and on Will There Be Food, there has been many moments where I’m just like, I’m just going to be honest. That’s all I can do. Sometimes I get nervous when I’m afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing. Right. And as an I identify as bisexual and you know, even in my own experience,
Luca: Happy bi- oh no, this is for future air. Nevermind. Well Happy Bi Awareness Week!
Meg: It’s fine; we’re gonna keep it. Oh no, it’s okay. This week.
Luca: Well Happy Bi Awareness Week! Sorry.
Meg: I promise I exist.
Luca: You’re real with or without a week. Come on.
Meg: Thank you. Thank you, Luke. I really do want to keep that. Um, but yes, I’m afraid, you know, like as my, obviously education is still growing in my own identities, but I’m sometimes afraid of just saying the wrong thing. Um, and I just want to ask like, what is the best way for someone who may not be comfortable with these terms or maybe not as, as I’m educated on these terms to navigate that with people?
Luca: Sure. I think there’s, there’s several things that I recommend that can be useful and I think I’ll start at the, I think I’ll start at the place where, where many people are the most worried and that is once you already are worried that you have already made a mistake. Okay, we’ll start there. Um, because I think that that is the, the easiest thing to describe. Um, if you become aware that you’ve made a mistake, maybe you’ve used the wrong pronoun for someone or you thought you knew someone’s identity label and you were incorrect. The key to that moment is: an apology. And in my book, an apology has three elements and one follow-through, which make four, four elements. I’ve… Four elements. Um, and so, um, an apology I believe is usually immediate, brief and sincere.
Luca: And anybody that’s ever been on the receiving end of, of an apology that did not, that did not include those three components, you know? Right. You know, when someone says, I”‘m sorry you felt blank when that happened”, or you know, that’s not an apology. So immediate, brief and sincere. And then like I said, the fourth element then is you need to try not to do that again. Right?
Meg: Correct. Right.
Luca: So, so if you are already aware that somehow you’ve messed up, the art of an apology is important to remember. And again, not, not giving, not if you’ve ever received an apology where someone goes on and on and on forever and you start to feel embarrassed and it becomes more and more about their story and not about how they just wronged you. You know what that feels like too. So immediate, brief and sincere. And so that, again, apologies go a long way. I certainly also remember the apologies that I’ve received in my life that followed that form and they’re very appreciated. And so that’s the number one thing. The second thing I always recommend is, yeah, the way that people identify and the words that we use change over time. I think that’s a wonderful thing. And so it’s about trying to stop ourselves from making assumptions and, and being with the person or the people that you’re with and asking, asking, um, questions that demonstrate that you are interested and want to know more. So even in my office, if a student comes to me and lists off a couple of their identities because they want to give me context, usually the next thing I say to them is, tell me what that means to you. Right? Because even every, anyone who comes into my office and says, okay, so I’m bi and here’s a bunch of other stuff, I might say, “Oh, that’s terrific and happy Bi Awareness Week. And tell me what that means to you and tell me how that, how that is important in your life. Right? Because that’s truly the most important thing. I had the experience a couple of years ago of a student who came in and along with giving me some context and information about himself, he identified his gender and identity using a word that’s not very common anymore. And that I usually recommend that people not use unless it’s their identity, where he said, “I’m a transsexual.” And I thought to myself, I thought to myself, well, usually today that’s that seen as an outdated word. Um, even a pejorative word, it’s, it’s medicalized, pathologizing. And I thought to myself, you know, I’ve met much older people, um, much older than myself, let me clarify, who do use that word for themselves because it was the only word that was available for them at the time, right? Like somebody in their seventies or eighties or their nineties. Right? And so I certainly understand that. And here is a person sitting in front of me who’s about 19 years old. And so I was a little bit taken aback. But again, if it’s your identity words, you get to have it. And I said, “You know, I don’t meet so many students today that identify as transsexual. Tell me more about that.” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, that word connects me to my history.”
Luca: I know. And I said, “Whoa, that is deep.” Right?And, and he then went on to explain, yeah, it is absolutely today an outdated word. And I use it purposefully to let people know, to give me sort of an entree to talk more about that. And because it, it helps me feel solidarity with people who came way before me where there was certainly much, many fewer resources and much less conversation about the experience that I have. Now, is that very common in traditional age, college students to use that word still? Not so much. Was it central to that student’s life? Absolutely. And so it’s important that I respect that. And so again, I meet many people who are like, “Luca, give me a handout or a PowerPoint that tells me all the right answers because I really, really, really am nervous and I don’t want to mess up.” And I say to them, “You know, it’s, for me it’s about, it’s about the art of being, in conversation, being in dialogue and being respectful and you get to to find out these gems about people that you would never know… um, by y listening. So, um, I guess I would say I would encourage people to keep in mind ways that you can be that… that you can fearlessly move forward in dialogue and in asking questions that model respect and that, that reflect back our common humanity.
Meg: Luca, I’m shook.
Luca: I’m sorry. You’re like, “Why are we, do we have another guest we can talk to? Am I, is this uh, I’m kind of hooked on competence. Am I doing this right? Is this – hello? Is this thing on?
Meg: [laughs] This is perfect! My mind is blown. I’m looking at my producer and just like my mind is blown. I love it.
Luca: Okay. And I, and again, my job isn’t to tell people how to use words and my job isn’t to tell people what they should do. My job is to be with someone or be with a group and bear witness to them and affirm them and help them towards their future. However they determine it for themselves. And so that is, that is important work. takes into account that people are multidimensional and it takes, it takes time and it takes an element of fearlessness, right? So to say, I’m not, yeah, I am not the expert in you. You are the expert in you. You tell me what’s most important and what you’re working towards and let’s figure out how we can reduce barriers that may be impacting you right now and help you get where you want to get.
Meg: Wow. I love that. You what you said there is just so powerful and just this is how I’m going to help empower and support you. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m not gonna, you know, give you all the answers or even the roadmap even, like I’m just going to sit and be present with you and you know, in whatever way you want to navigate that, I’m here for you kind of thing.
Meg: Now. Now the question is, I know that not all institutions are doing that. Not all SA pros are doing that. Sometimes it’s a lack of education, lack of resources or just a mix and hodgepodge of all kinds of things. I guess the first question that I really want to dig into is why, why are we afraid of supporting our trans students?
Luca: I think that’s a great question. So again, we started out by talking about the assumptions and the notions and the deeply held beliefs that are particularly rooted in, in our society, right? Um, the way that we think about gender is that the way that the dominant culture in the United States thinks about gender is, is binary. But we also know that throughout the world, that is not the way all cultures and all societies view gender. And it’s certainly not the way throughout history that societies and cultures have viewed, have viewed gender. I mean, even in North America, there are indigenous populations in, in North America that certainly did not have a binary notion of gender. And so although it is very deep seated and firmly rooted, that doesn’t mean that it’s that it reflects the experiences of human diversity that folks have across the gender continuum. But what it also means though is that for some people that may, again, as you said, it may cause them worry or stress. It may cause them fear. And sometimes for some folks, fear causes a reaction that can lead to bias and discrimination, either intentional or unintentional, right? Things that we, things that are unknown, things that seem unfamiliar can, um in some people bring about a very strong reaction. So I mean, I think that’s, that’s part of it. But another element is, for many people, the idea… well, this is, this is the way we’ve always thought about things and this is the way we’ve always done them. It can take a lot to move a person from a place of, you know this, “I don’t even understand how this is a thing”, right too again, embracing the fact that people’s experience of gender and of, of being human are, it, are much more varied and complex. And so I think there’s an element of fear. Yeah. And sometimes the element of surprise and you know, I think unfortunately also that can also be sort of parried and, and leveraged into sometimes into, um, partisan or political fodder. Right. Here’s something you’re afraid of, right? Ah, this might be, you know, useful messaging, um, to, to be able to convince folks, um, to maybe codify this into law or policy. And at the same time as a student affairs professional, again, the number one priority that I have is to respect the autonomy of each individual student that I work with. And in order to do that, again, that means I may have to go headlong into complexity. It may mean I have to sit with two ideas that might seem at odds or mutually exclusive, but they’re not. But again, it’s all in service of that student. And so while it can be very difficult, I think for higher ed and the, and frankly institutions and organizations in general, they move very slowly. I mean, I speak, I’m speaking now, as I said, as a sociologist, right? Like institutions and organizations, they move very slowly. And so, um, if we can come together around the idea that our profession exists so that students can succeed, for me that brings into sharp focus the clarity of the importance of doing this work well and doing what has to happen so that transgender students can succeed. And what the research has shown us again and again with, um, with LGBTQ students and others, students who experience marginalization is when we change policies and processes and services to meet the needs of the students who are the most marginalized that benefits other students as well. And so, again, there, there are several examples in the literature where making some changes that at the time I think a higher ed thought were, were pretty substantial changes, resulted in better serving and better supporting students who are marginalized so that they experience more student success. And it also raised the access level, right? The inclusion level for students that weren’t part of those groups. And so it’s, it’s, there’s no downside to making things more accessible to extending equity and inclusion, um, across the academy. It benefits everyone.
Luca: Absolutely. Luca, I’m curious to go into a little bit of what are those ways that we are increasing access and helping affirm our trans students, whether that’s housing or you know, legal documentation. What does that look like in student affairs right now?
Meg: Oh sure, sure. So what that looks like are a variety of things it looks like, um, hopefully it looks like having an LGBT center and the professional staff whose job it is to support transgender students. Um, that again, I think that this work has fallen to students to do their own advocacy, their own, um, allyship, their own, um, working towards finding the solutions that they need in order to succeed. And frankly, that’s not fair. Right? Like, so, um, first of all, I think it has to do with, are there paid professional staff whose job it is to work on these issues both directly with students and behind the scenes? So behind the scenes, things include things like working on making sure that there’s a nondiscrimination policy at your college or university and also making sure that their policies extend equity and inclusion. So there can be lots of other policies that are not non-discrimination policies that may unintentionally create barriers for transgender students. And so it’s about that. Um, one example like you said, is about housing. Are there gender-inclusive housing options? Now again, what we’ve seen is many people like to have a lot of different kinds of housing options, right? Because people are different. Yes. Many people have, like we’ve also found many people like, uh, single occupancy, private restrooms and showers like we have in our homes. Right? Like, like that’s no secret, right? Um, they, they benefit many different kinds of people. And so things like having gender inclusive housing, taking a look at what kinds of, uh, restroom and shower and changing facilities you have. Um, taking a look at the number of all-gender bathrooms you have around a campus. Again, they certainly can benefit some transgender students. They certainly can benefit non-binary folks and gender nonconforming folks who are not transgender, who may have, again, have interactions and restrooms where other people may tell them they’re in the wrong restroom. But all gender restrooms on my campus are also extremely important to our students who have disabilities, who would like more privacy in the restroom or who need, um, grab bars and other features to make sure that they can use the restroom in a way that’s safe. Um, certainly we have over 300 musical concerts a year that are free and open to the public on our campus and many, many, I know it’s amazing and many of — where we started as a music conservatory — and so many, many members of our campus community and our employees and their families and their guests and members of the community come and if they, if they come with their small children who need help in the restroom, it’s all gender-restrooms to the, the rescue. If someone comes with an elderly relative who needs assistance in the restroom and all gender restrooms there, if someone has a personal care attendant who’s a different gender, right? We have all-gender restrooms, so that they can enjoy a performance, enjoy a play, enjoy a sporting event and no, again, we, this environment is set up for you to be here and so it has to do with, like I said, both policy, process and services and then doing an environmental scan to make sure things are working the way you thought. Do you know what I mean?
Luca: So, so sometimes you might think, Oh this is a great for a policy or here’s a setup that might work sort of in our physical space. And then let’s figure out what does that mean. It’s not just enough to have all-gender bathrooms. Do you know what also is very helpful for people to know where they are? So, so on my campus, yeah, so on my campus we made sure there was a list by building for folks who are familiar with our campus so that they would know where the all-gender restrooms are. And that on the, the general all campus map, there’s a filter layer so that if you click on it, you can find all the, all-gender restrooms on a map. So if you are a prospective student or you’re visiting our campus for a conference or uh, yeah, football game, you know, where the nearest all gender restrooms are and another filter overlay, we’ll show you the accessible entrances so that, so those buildings, so again, we’re looking at whole people, right? It’s not enough to have the restrooms. You must show them and then you have to show people, well, how do you get into the building if you are using a wheelchair? Right? Right. Or you’re using crutches, right. And had, what’s, what’s the nearest building to where you’ll be. And so it’s all of those things and more. Um, I think it really also means… What a lot of people, when they think of transgender students, I think now think of all-gender restrooms, a gender inclusive housing. Um, they think about the ability to have, for students to be able to designate their chosen name or some people call it their preferred name, their name that they use right on their rosters and their ID cards. Uh, and basically everywhere. People think of that. We also want to make sure that we go further. So on our campus a little bit more than 10 years ago, my office collaborated with the academic affairs side of the house to create a voice and communication program for members of the transgender community. It comes out of our speech pathology department and our master’s level students can opt in and learn that specialty, which is a very, very specialized and very lucrative, frankly a very lucrative specialty. And they opt in to learn. So they get sort of on the, on the job training, they are supervised by a speech half professional from our community who’s a member of the transgender community and has this specialty area and any member of our campus community or their family members can become a client at no charge. And so, you know, did, did we, did we need to do this? No, we did not. Did we have all of the resources and able to offer it? Yes. And when students came forward and said, you know, we’ve heard that there were a couple other colleges that do this, why don’t we, we looked at ourselves and said, why don’t we, and what will it take? So it’s, it’s those sorts of things. Um, it’s vague and again, it’s figuring out, um, you know, we are a lot of people talk about colleges and universities that accept LGBT students. And to me that bar is way too low. Um, right? Like we’re not the college that just accepts you. We expected you. Yeah. We expected you with services, programs, opportunities, um, designed for, the needs and the possibilities that LGBTQ students bring with them. And then, and that takes again, that that takes active work. It’s not like you can just be designated uh, you know, one of the friendliest campuses and everybody can sort of sit back and say, well, we did that. We’re all done.
Meg: My work’s done…
Luca: And so again, it takes, it takes proactive leadership to continually figure out what are the needs that students have, what have we addressed well, and what still remains. So it’s at its very core, I really believe that inclusion for trans students is being able to fully participate. And full participation isn’t only about policy. Policies part of it, but it’s also about who’s at the table and who’s not at the table and why, right? That is what, what are the barriers? So if we have a leadership opportunity for students or we’re taking a look at worship services, right? We need to take a look at who, who avails themselves of these opportunities, who isn’t here and how come? Is it because when they think, Oh, well I’d like to go, I’d like to go to Shabbat and then have Shabbat dinner, but the closest all-gender restrooms in a different building. Well that’s a barrier. Right?
Meg: Right, right.
Luca: Um, yeah. So it’s, it’s really about looking around and figuring out who’s here and who’s not. And are there institutional structural, personal barriers and how do we reduce those?
Meg: Mm. I know that there’s some folks that are listening that they’re a part of, they’re in departments that aren’t there yet, haven’t figured it out. Even my last institution, I’m housing residence life, myself and I luckily was a part of that cultural shift towards inclusive housing in my last department. And in my last year had an incoming student who told me that they’re transgender. They’re excited to come to that institution because they felt comfortable, really liked the classes, the majors and everything. But the, um, their mom, um, had a lot of questions about what the housing situation was going to look like. Um and we have suite-style so everyone has their own bathrooms, but there isn’t, you know, um, so that wasn’t a problem, but I’m thinking about my old school residence halls where it’s like 50 people too, you know, public space. And it’s just interesting how, how people are tackling these problems in these ways and, and navigating it with these students. Um, and so for anyone listening who is still kind of on the, we’re not quite there yet, spectrum, um, of this, it’s, you know, as we’re trying to say is, you know, it doesn’t have to be big sweeping policy change. It can be small little incremental changes that you can help support students in just being there. Listening is also, the first start is all you need to do. Um, I do want to ask a question in regards to we, so we’ve talked a little bit about, um, things that have institutional changes, institutional policy that have helped support trans students. What does federal law look like when it comes to supporting trans students on campus?
Luca: I’m glad you asked about that. So there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in any area of American life. Right now that being said, um, until recently, title nine was one of the things in place, um, that the last federal administration issued a, a decision saying they believe that it extended to transgender students specifically and issued guidance around how, what schools were going to be expected to do both K through 12 schools and colleges and universities to respect and be in compliance with title nine. And over the last little while in this current presidential administration, now they have decided to no longer enforce title nine around transgender students and, and, and, and a few other things as well. And so that’s very concerning. But I also want to say that just because something is legal, it doesn’t, I mean it’s, right. And just because something is not legal, it doesn’t mean it’s ethical. And so there are a variety of states and municipalities that do have non-discrimination, non-discrimination law built into their state or their city or town policies. And so that’s one important thing. Obviously every school wants to be in compliance with the local jurisdiction that they’re at. In addition, even if a college or university is in a state that specifically does not have non-discrimination law in place, and maybe even it’s known to be a pretty hostile state, that doesn’t mean an individual college or university can’t make their own school nondiscrimination policy and say, here, these are expectations and this is our policy. And so again, you can live in a state that is mm, maybe known for being openly hostile, and yet your experience might be pretty good if you are on a campus that recognizes that all human beings should be afforded dignity and respect. And conversely, unfortunately you can live in a state that people think of as being generally terrific. And you know, again, it’s not just policy that makes these things happen. Um, it’s also about accountability, right? So policy says, here’s what we do and don’t allow. A good policy will then also say “and here’s what you do. If you think we are not following this right, here’s how you raise an issue and make sure that it is addressed. And so I think that not to pick on colleges and universities, I think that many places across the nation, uh, workplaces, uh, sometimes, uh, places of worship have done really good on the policy end of things and are not really strong on the well, okay, we say that we don’t allow this. What if it happens, right? And so it’s about that accountability piece and I’m really trying to move people towards policy is one important step and then what happens next?
Meg: Right. I’m thinking about that in the sense of like is there, especially for incidents, right?
Meg: Is incident bias training? Is it, you know, is there like a reporting structure of like…
Luca: It’s all those things. Yes. Yup, yup. It has to do with um, with education, with training, professional development. It also has to do with clearly communicating expectations about what workplace expectations are for people who work in higher ed. And again, whether or not there’s a law or a policy in place, it doesn’t mean we can’t treat each other with kindness and with respect.
Meg: Absolutely. Is there any way SA pros can improve their transgender cultural competency or skills, um, are there resources that exist out there?
Luca: Sure. I think the first step is taking stock of what you know and what you don’t know, which sounds really easy and again, can feel a little bit, um, you know, you can feel a little bit of afraid to acknowledge, Oh, here’s all the stuff I’m, I know and I’m really good at, you know, here’s my here my growth edges. And you know, sometimes people feel a little a little anxious about that. Um, so first it’s about sort of taking that inventory of as far as as a professional, what do you feel that you’re on really solid ground about and where do your growth edges. Second step is, where can you get high quality information to bridge that gap? And again, we’re so luck in 2019 that there are, there are people who are resources, there are vast online resources. Um, there are, there are curricula, there are books. Um, you were talking about housing a little while ago. You know, there’s an entire book came out last year about best practices in housing and residence life around transgender students because just like everybody else, a cookie cutter approach doesn’t work because everybody’s different. Right? And so I’m depending on your campus culture and your facilities and your mission and vision and values, there can be different ways that a college or university may go about extending equal housing to everyone. There’s not just, again, if it was a handout, I would’ve distributed it already. Right? It really has to do with, right. There are many ways that this can can come about. And some cost a lot of money and some don’t and a lot are sort of in between. And so it really has to do with, you know, finding out, don’t reinvent the wheel if there’s already a resource. Um, I’m, one of the things I love about being in student affairs is I think we’re great at sharing. And so, you know, first ask for what you need, um, and then, you know, sometimes what you need has not been created yet. And then maybe you get to be one of the people that says, Hey, you know, I have the privilege privilege of, of realizing this and having some time and energy. Let’s figure out how we can create something to help the field. Um, but it really, like I said, it, I used to really be a big proponent of policy and training. But really the third leg of that stool is then accountability, professional accountability, personal accountability, ability, institution, institutional accountability.
Meg: Yes. I love that. Luca, what, and I’m just going to be very clear. So one of the reasons why you’re on this show is because of this teaching transgender toolkit. So speaking of resources. Let’s talk about it and let’s share with the folks listening what that is.
Luca: Oh, thanks for asking. So the teaching transgender toolkit is a book that I wrote with my co author, Dr Eli Green, because we had been doing work in addressing the professional development and training needs of folks in higher ed and in the workplace and in a variety of other environments. And we were working very hard and we love that work. And we both realized that there was a limit to how many people we could reach. And so we got together one day and said, how in the world will we reach more people? And we decided, you know, what if we wrote everything down that we had been doing and you know, we went through, we went through, you know, different stages like, Oh my gosh, we don’t know anything and you know, who in the world who would want this anyway? Or what if we are totally wrong? And eventually we thought, well let’s give it a try. And because we’re us, we also said we’ll give it a try and then we’ll pass it by, you know, a variety of, of readers to give us input. And instead of having, you know, two or three readers to give us input, that’s, you know, kind of common when you’re writing a book. We had, I think, almost 30 people that we contacted and said, would you please tell us again, tell us what we’re missing, tell us what we’re doing good at, and tell us, you know, what, what we overlooked and what we need to do more of. And so at the end of that process, um, we, there, we ended up with a book called the teaching transgender toolkit. It’s a book full of best practices, um, foundations around transgender people and experiences, resources and lesson plans for folks who want to facilitate training and dialogue and professional development in a variety of settings about transgender people and experiences. And so, um, you can find out more at teachingtransgender.org where we also parked a bunch of free pieces of the book and free resources because again, yep, we’re all about sharing. And our goal is to increase the access that transgender people have to more and more, um, spaces. Again, not just where, you know, they’re accepted, but where they were expected. And that’s where I really want to be moving society towards. So, um, I encourage people to take a look at it if they’re interested. Um, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists named it a 2016 book of the year, which let us know we’re on the right track and we are currently working on an all new second edition, um, that will be coming out at some point in the future. Again, um, folks have given us a lot of feedback about what was helpful and also some things have changed since it came out. Some things unfortunately have not changed. And um, so we want to, um, we’re working on something that would be augmented have some of the, the foundations pieces that people have said they really love and include a whole new array of, um, lesson plans and outlines and things for people to be able to bring training again into their, into their campus, into their um, faith community and into their K through 12 schools, Into their workplace, wherever they are.
Meg: I love that and I know that people are going to love that too. And you said free at some point and you were like, some of these might be free, and I’m like, Oh, they’re going to love that too.
Luca: Oh yeah. Yeah. There’s a bunch of stuff right now that’s free on the, on the website. Yeah.
Meg: Awesome. Luca, what advice do you have for SA pros who want to better support their trans students on campus?
Luca: Oh, that’s a great question. So I would always encourage SA pros to focus on their goal and if your goal is how can I support student success, that will generally point you in the right direction to what needs to continue to happen or what needs to change. The tricky part is you yourself may not have the power to make some of these changes, but it will steer you in the right direction so that you can support and advocate for what they need. So my, I always encourage people to think about what’s your goal? And and to not aim too low. Right? I think, again, all the statistics which are born out of societal stigma and discrimination and, and pervasive structural racism, frankly, the large intersection of racism with um, transphobia, um, that fuel all of the negative health outcomes and the sort of doom and gloom statistics about transgender people. But it’s not about being a transgender person in the world that puts you at risk. It’s living in a society that’s still rife with racism and stigma and discrimination that puts somebody at risk. And so my worry is that we aim too low, right? Because everything around us is like, Oh, well if you end up alive that is a cause for celebration. And I agree. And I think there’s more. So, so I encourage student affairs professionals to think about, yeah, how do we, what, what is our goal in our work and what are our students’ goals and how can we mutually make sure that those goals are, are lofty enough. I myself, as a person growing up, I know what it was like really not to have role models or allies, um, or mentors. And, um, I know different times in my life where, you know, I was aiming my idea of success. Now when I look back on it, it was pretty darn laughably low, right? And, and, and it, and, and it caused me to miss out on opportunities because I counted myself out. I thought it was a, I thought my, my future had been foreclosed upon. Right? And so, and again, I think that not just students, but student affairs professionals can get in that mindset too of you know, how can we sort of squeak by. Because the statistical picture, you know, that is painted seems pretty bleak. And yet most, most transgender people I know are not just surviving, but we’re thriving. And So there’s a disconnect, right? So all of the skills that transgender people have that help us make a way in the world. Focus, determination, perseverance, um, creativity, um, you know, grit, resilience, those are all things that can make us amazing students, amazing employees, amazing members of our families and our communities. And, but we have to sort of buck the societal idea of relying on those negative numbers. Um, because that’s again, like that’s what has been deemed worthy of research, right? Like people go expecting, Oh, it must be hard for these groups of people. Let’s exactly quantify how difficult and hard it is. And it’s only recently that more research is being done on resilience and creativity. Um, and, and the incredible community that LGBTQ folks build for ourselves. Right? And so it’s not that we don’t have those experiences, it’s that there’s a lack of research about it. So I also encourage student affairs professionals who are not already into um, research to figure out what, what drives you, what is your passion in your work with students? What have you learned that you want to make sure other people know and how can you do that?
Meg: That was one of those mike drops.
Luca: And I mean, and I definitely can remember, you know, when I was an undergrad, I know the, I know the exact person who made a difference in my life. So I was, I was living in a res hall and I had expected it to be pretty okay. And there were a bunch of fellow students who live there who were, uh, who were real really bullies. That’s probably what we’d call them today. They didn’t, they were, they didn’t like anything different. They didn’t like anyone different. They targeted me right away. Um, because of the way that they perceived who I was. They targeted one of my friends who was a person of color, they targeted my RA because he was studying for the ministry and they thought that that was sort of “weird” air quotes. And, and they embarked upon just a campaign of terror, of, of verbal and physical violence against us. And we, um, asked for help. I talked to the the police at that time, this is a long time ago. Um, the police at that time were not very supportive. Um, they said to me, you know, sort of what did you expect? You go around right on panels talking about the experience of being an LGBTQ person. What did you expect? What happened? So that wasn’t what I was hoping for. Um, my RA, you know, I was like, you should be able to do something and nothing happened. And finally I’d had it and I, I, you know, I thought, well, I escaped. My goal for college was I needed to escape the town, escape the county I grew up in and I was like, well, I met my goal. I escaped that town, right? I, you know, I went to college, but my goal wasn’t really to graduate college. It was just to, to get out of the town I went to high school in. So again, a low bar and I was like, this is terrible. Like we’re putting up with all this abuse. No one will help us. We keep asking for help. So I packed all of my things and I decided to drop out and a bunch of my friends had mentioned this woman on campus and now I know she worked in student affairs, right. At that time, I don’t think I had a sense of even student affairs was as profession, right. And they kept saying go see this woman in this office. And I said, well, she’s not in the campus police. She’s not in ResLife. You know, we’ve asked for help and no one will help us. I don’t, I don’t get why I should even waste my time. And they’re like, just go, you know, just go see her before you go. And I thought, what the heck, all my stuff is packed. I dunno where I’m going next, but why not? I’ll stop by this woman’s office. And I told her what had been going on and that no one had done anything to intervene and that a bunch of people sort of authority figures told us the whole situation was our fault. And she looked at me and I said, look, it just, I’m packed. I’m going to move out. I’m dropping out. It just doesn’t matter. She looked me right in my eyes and she stopped and she said, “It matters to me that you stay.” And I don’t know why that made a difference to me. I mean, it’s because someone finally said that I mattered. Someone saw me, someone, someone sat with me. And said, I hear all this stuff that’s happening. I believe you and it’s not okay, but it matters to me that you stay. And that’s how I came to eventually become a student affairs professional. I want to pay it forward. Right. So, um, I, a lot of people think that I want all of my students to go on and to like LGBTQ specific careers or I want them to study LGBTQ studies or queer theory. It’s great when when students do that but what I want students to do is whatever they want. Yeah. I want them to aspire untethered rather than getting by on something that’s less than out of the belief that inevitably they will amount to nothing or live sad, you know, sorry, doomed lives. So my hope is, is that through the work that I do and through the work that student affairs professionals do all over, all over it, all colleges and universities that we can increase the numbers of students who have more access to all of the things that are, that our college or university campuses have to offer them so that they can, they can be and become who they truly are.
Meg: I love that. Thank you Luca. Thank you. You made my heart. So happy I met you.
Luca: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Meg: Oh my gosh. Shout out to everyone doing this important work cause –
Luca: Oh absolutely.
Meg: Ya’ll need to know like people just need to be seen and I think we are those people for our students.
Luca: And I think sometimes you, I think sometimes we may not, know the difference we are making, but we are making a difference. I don’t think when I meant to visit that when I went to visit that woman in her office that she thought she would completely change the course of my life. But she did. And, and as luck would have it 17 years later, I got to go back and thank her. And you know, I was like, thanks to you, I am now a big pain at my institution to make sure, uh, that students are able to be who they are, love who they love, do what they want to do, and aspire untethered.
Meg: I’m not crying. It’s fine. I’m glad no one can see me. Thank you so much for joining me today on “Will There Be Food?” I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing your story, hearing how you are making a difference on your campus at Ithaca ,as well as helping essay pros do the same.
Luca: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you.
Meg: You’ve been listening to “Will There Be Food?” with me, Meg Sunga. My guest this week was Luca Mauer, director of the center for LGBT education, outreach and services at Ithaca college. You can follow Luca and his office on Twitter at @ICLGBT. You can follow “Will There Be Food?” at @HelloPresence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For episode transcripts and show notes, head to presence.io/podcast. Don’t forget to rate us, subscribe and share with all the friends, and let us know what topics you want to cover next. “Will There Be Food?” is a production of Presence. It’s hosted by me, Meg Sunga. The show is directed, edited, and mixed by our producer, Luke Burton. Our executive producer is Cassandra Corado. Catch us next week when we’ll be talking about food insecurity on campus.