By Kyle Inselman, Communications Associate
I moved to Colorado in 2007 to attend the University of Colorado Boulder (CU), not only for the academics and mountains, but also because of something many universities I considered didn’t have—a strong LGBT community. On campus and around Boulder, I found the resources I needed to feel supported and safe as I transitioned, and, while not perfect, I often point to my experience at CU as exemplifying a great environment for gender transition in college.
Many times in the trans community, we rely on those personal stories to determine both the good resources and the places to avoid. We also have to rely on those stories when advocating for our community to institutions that need to change to better serve us. There aren’t many statistics or studies to back up what we experience.
That gap in research is what a group of students and staff from across Colorado sought to correct. In 2009, Colorado Trans on Campus (CTOC) was convened by the Colorado Anti-Violence Program to begin intercollegiate discussion on transgender inclusion in higher education in Colorado. At meetings, trans people and allies from a variety of campuses and roles began sharing personal stories, as well as comparing campus policies and protocols that impact transgender and gender nonconforming students, staff, and faculty.
Using the CTOC discussions as a starting point, Kristie Seelman, MSW, and Eugene Walls, PhD, began a formal study to look into recurring concerns and questions. The resulting study consisted of interviews with 30 students, staff, and faculty from 10 campuses in Colorado, capturing a range of experiences—from small, private colleges to large, public institutions, and with participants from 18 to 45 years of age and of various gender identities.
Key findings of the report, Invisibilities, Uncertainties and Unexpected Surprises, shed light on many of the lived experiences and stories told by transgender people in higher education. As the title of the report captures, many times the experiences were negative, and participants felt unrecognized, disrespected, and unsure of what to do:
- The diversity even within the small sample shows that transgender people identify in many ways. Only 20% of the sample was always or nearly always perceived as their identity.
- Acknowledgment, respect, and use of preferred names and pronouns and nonbinary/nonstatic identities arose again and again, part of a larger theme that emerged of ignorance among administrators and professors of trans issues, unknowingly outing trans people due to lack of information and awareness.
- Even LGBT and gender studies spaces proved to not always be educated on or inclusive of transgender experiences.
- Across departments, and especially in healthcare, effectiveness and knowledge depended largely on the individual person on staff whom they dealt with, and competency still was an issue, even after entire health center staff received trainings on transgender concerns.
At the end of the report, a detailed list of suggestions and best practices is included for administrators, faculty, student leaders, and other advocates.
One Colorado is committed to ending discrimination against the transgender community and ensuring that all Coloradans can live authentically. We applaud CTOC for conducting this research to improve the lives of transgender people affiliated with higher education institutions in Colorado.