Trans and non-binary students’ experiences at York St John
By Marije Davidson & Anna Deacon
York St John is a university with a deep and authentic commitment to addressing inequalities, injustices and challenges facing society today. That is why, in 2017, we introduced the Trans Inclusive Framework, setting out policies and procedures and a guide to staff and students. We are proud of being in the Stonewall Top 20 Trans Inclusive Employer 2020, and we were runners-up to the 2018 Guardian’s Student Experience Award. Our Athena SWAN bronze award for gender equality recognises our excellent track record of trans inclusion.
To support the framework, we have:
- a designated student officer and named contacts in key services and the SU. This enables students and staff to speak confidentially to an understanding person.
- a Trans Inclusive Network with LGBTQ+ staff and student representation which has led to actions from tackling systemic errors in naming trans students to raising visibility by flying the trans flag.
- gender-neutral toilets on campus and sanitary provision for both women and trans men.
- trans awareness training through multiple channels.
During September 2021, we conducted an online survey about experiences as a trans student at York St John. We asked students about:
- their experience of making changes
- their awareness of services/support
- who they were able to discuss their trans identity/history with
- their positive and negative experiences at York St John University and Students’ Union
- what changes they would like to see happen to make York St John a better place for trans students
Our aim was to find out how we can make it easy and comfortable for students who are embarking on transition journey, or who wish to be known as trans or non-binary, to tell others in the University and to access support if they need it.
We are very grateful to Chris Smith, SU President Wellbeing and Diversity, and Josh Watts, SU LGBTQ+ Officer, for their help in reaching out to trans and non-binary students.
We were pleased with the response rate with 51 people completing the survey (out of 124 who started). 48 respondents identified as ‘female’, 43 as ‘male’, 23 as non-binary and 9 used a self-described term. Self-described terms included: agender, demigirl, trans masc non-binary, pangender, woman by sex.
We were surprised to find that while 35 students identified as trans, a further 19 identified as non-binary or with a self-described term. This highlighted for us that we need to talk about trans and non-binary people not just trans. We responded straightaway by changing the title of the trans inclusive framework to trans and non-binary inclusive framework.
There was good and not so good news.
All trans and non-binary respondents reported positive experiences, particularly with the transition process, feeling a strong sense of inclusivity and being supported by staff.
“I was really welcomed and encouraged when I came out and I had my name changed twice and the university has really allowed me to feel comfortable” (Non-binary, trans, made changes)
“I haven’t been here long but it was nice to have gender neutral toilets and the pronoun badges given out at the LGBT society during the freshers fair were really helpful. (Female, trans, made changes)”
“So far all staff have been incredibly respectful and supportive of me. My lecturers in particular have been very supportive and encouraging me to be myself which has been amazing to experience.” (Transgender (female to male), made changes)
We can conclude that our systems for making changes are effective (but we are always watchful so please email Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org if you spot any glitches).
However, we were disappointed that just over a third of the trans and non-binary students were not aware of support available. And whilst half of students felt able to discuss their trans identity/history with both students and staff, a further 31% felt able to do this with students only. Some respondents also reported experiencing anxiety about responses from the YSJ community, poor complaint handling and misgendering.
“I am nervous about students using my wrong name or my deadname being on the register when we go back.” (Non-binary, trans, made changes)
“Being outed by another student whilst living stealth at the time, reporting this to staff and nothing being done.” (Male, trans, made changes)
“I’ve been unintentionally misgendered by people a couple of times, but that’s nobody’s fault :)” (Male, trans, made changes)
We were grateful for the many suggestions for changes, for example
“More communication. Even if it was just an email detailing where you can go for certain things.” (Female, trans, made changes)
“an accessible way to fin [sic] trans and queer students on campus or online” (Non-binary, trans, made changes)
“…it would be great if we had a gp that specialises in trans healthcare.” (Female, trans, made changes)
As a response to issues around helping students find us, and each other, we recently invited the co-ordinator of the Trans and Non-binary support group at York LGBT Forum to run a meet and greet on campus. This was very successful, with great student attendance. It helped students find out about what is available in the local York community, about the support at YSJU, and most importantly enabled them to meet others with shared experiences.
The survey shows that the YSJ community is right to be proud of our reputation of being trans and non-binary inclusive.
But there is always more to do.
The University has committed to the following actions in the next 5 years:
- improve information and communication so that all students and staff are aware of the Trans and non-binary Inclusive Framework and what support is available
- increase understanding of trans inclusivity within the wider YSJU community, through providing trans-related training for staff and activities to present research by trans scholars during diversity days
- from September 2022 provide trans students with access to peer support/socials at YSJU.
We have a fantastic network of colleagues and students, and we are convinced that there are more of you who could contribute to our trans inclusive university. Here are some tips:
- visit the Trans Inclusive Framework on our website!
- Find out whether your team or department has a Trans Inclusive Network member. If not, then would you like to join?
- Learn about using pronouns
- Tell all your students about the support available
- If you can help us with any of the actions above, no matter how small or how big, then please get in touch.