Trans* Inclusion in the Classroom: Tips for the First Day of Class

In April 2017, the Duke Graduate School, Duke’s Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, and the Duke Center for Instructional Technology (now Learning Innovation) co-sponsored a workshop on Transgender Inclusion in the Classroom.  The workshop offered a look at models and training in creating a classroom that incorporates trans* students, including best practices and example scenarios.  This is the last of several blog posts written by guest authors in which Learning Innovation aims to highlight important concepts covered during, and inspired by, the workshop.

This post was written by Julien E. Fischer, a PhD student in the Graduate Program in Literature.

All students deserve to be treated with respect in the classroom. This is true not only for cisgender students, but for transgender students, too.

This list is intended to help instructors build safe, supportive, and inclusive classroom environments for all students, as mandated by Duke University’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy. This work is always ongoing, and instructors encounter challenges every day. Luckily, building a safe and respectful classroom environment for all people begins with some pretty basic steps:

  • Using correct pronouns for all students is a mandatory element of an inclusive classroom. The best way to know how to refer to people – whether or not they are trans– is by asking respectfully, and without making assumptions. In order to touch base with your students and show your support for student privacy, begin the semester with a pre-class email introduction. Ask that students send back a questionnaire that clarifies the name that they wish to be called in the classroom and their pronouns.
  • If a student asks you to call them by a certain name, it is your role as instructor to respect that name. Do not rely on roster information, as students are often unable to change the name used on legal or administrative documents. Use only the names provided by each student. Using any other name for a student, even one registered with the University, runs the risk of misnaming or “dead naming” transgender students.
  • If for any reason you imagine that using someone’s pronouns will be difficult for you, make an effort to only use their name. Do not misgender or question a student’s pronouns after clarification.
  • Opening the door for students to share their names and pronouns communicates that you are committed to treating students with respect.  Even students who do not share their identities will benefit from knowing that an instructor is knowledgeable, respectful, and committed to combating transphobia and battling assumptions.
  • If a mistake with names or pronouns is made, there is no need to make a show of apology. If you are aware of the mistake, quickly correct your slip by saying the correct name/pronoun, and continue the conversation. If you hear someone misgendering or misnaming another individual, correct them quickly and move on. Do not focus on the error, as that will draw more attention to the wrong pronoun or dead name.
  • Gendered language is a pervasive issue in classroom inclusion. Use gender ambiguous words such as “folks,” “people,” “class,” or “students,” instead of “men and women,” “ladies and gentleman,” etc. when addressing your students.
  • Never ask a transgender student anything you wouldn’t ask a cisgender student. There is absolutely no reason that any student should be asked questions about their bodies, medical histories, and intimate relationships, regardless of their gender expression.

Looking for more resources? Check out the following links on gender and transgender inclusion in the classroom:

American Philosophical Association, “Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language”

Gender Spectrum’s Education Focused Resources

UC Berkeley’s Guide for Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Trans* and Gender Expansive Students