ECU working to improve the experience of trans, gender diverse and non-binary students
Edith Cowan University (ECU) is working to improve the experiences of trans, gender diverse and non-binary students in all its courses, including the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood Studies).
13–19 November is Trans Awareness Week, leading to Trans Day of Remembrance on Monday 20 November. The week is an important part of the LGBTIQA+ calendar, given that almost 50 per cent of trans people have attempted suicide.
Research has shown that providing social support and using the trans person’s chosen name can drastically reduce depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviour.
In early 2020, ECU identified the need for a proactive approach to supporting and affirming trans, gender diverse, and non-binary (TGDNB) students, staff, alumni and the wider community.
ECU Equity Project Coordinator Stevie Lane (they/them) said while awareness and education on LGBTIQA+ experiences and actions for allyship were already in place at ECU, this project focused specifically on the unique experiences and needs of TGDNB people.
“Previous research had shown that three quarters of trans men, and two thirds of trans women and non-binary people feel unsafe or uncomfortable at their educational institution, compared with less than 50 per cent of cisgender men and cisgender women,” they said.
“Our new guidelines aim to empower TGDNB community members, and the ECU staff supporting and working alongside them.”
For transfeminine student Liz Prasil (she/her), studying with ECU has been a good experience.
“I feel seen and heard, my identity and name respected, and have faced no overt or covert forms of general queerphobia,” she said.
“I can’t say I’ve ever felt anything but validated at ECU.”
Ms Prasil said lecturers “speak and listen to me as they do to every student,” and that some have “gone to lengths to show a great understanding of queer identities within their lectures”.
Ms Prasil said on days that recognise TGDNB and LGBTIQA+ students, she appreciates how lecturers often took a small section of time, or a slide to recognise it.
“Especially since it is not required of the staff to acknowledge it in the lecture, it often makes me feel proud to consider myself as part of the LGBTIQA+ community,” she said.
Ms Prasil praised the resources and guidelines implemented and the attitudes of staff toward LGBTIQA+ students.
“I appreciate how simple and fast processes like changing your student name or gender markers are to be implemented, as well as how understanding, accommodating and flexible the staff are,” she said.
She also welcomed lecturers attaching their respective pronouns to their email because she said it made her feel accommodated.
“This is a subjective perception and by no means do I believe any and all lecturers must or even should attach their pronouns, but their addition notifies us they are aware of our situation and seek to acknowledge it.”
To better understand the issues and challenges facing TGDNB students, ECU’s Equity Projects team conducted a review of internal university surveys and consultations, literature, and best practice examples from other institutions.
“The review confirmed the stigma, discrimination, and violence experienced by TGDNB people, impacting on their health and wellbeing and therefore their ability to meaningfully engage in education and learning,” Stevie said.
“Students reported challenges such as family non-acceptance; financial problems and homelessness due to being kicked out of home or difficulties in finding employment due to gender identity; not feeling comfortable to share their gender identity with university staff or peers due to fear of bias, misunderstanding, or belittling; concern for practicum placements; and mental health concerns,” they added.
Using the information gathered in the review the Pride @ ECU Sub-Committee developed a practical resource for the University aimed at empowering the TGDNB community and the ECU staff supporting and working with them.
The TGDNB support guidelines were designed to:
- Support TGDNB students, staff and alumni to affirm their gender at ECU
- Provide guidance for students, staff, and alumni who may be supporting TGDNB people and communities at ECU
- Increase knowledge of TGDNB experiences so people at ECU understand why it’s important to provide specific support to TGDNB people while at university.
The guidelines, Stevie explained, were implemented in 2021, and as a result the ECU community now has greater awareness of the specific difficulties TGDNB students may experience during their studies.
Some ECU-wide examples of improvements towards the experiences of TGDNB students include:
- All gender bathrooms introduced across all campuses, including plans for the future city campus, which will include all gender bathrooms in multiple locations
- Students are not required to provide any documentation to update their title, gender marker, and preferred/affirmed name in the Student Information System
- A pronounced increase in the visibility of pronouns usage among staff members
- A pronounced increase in referrals to internal and external support services and social groups
- Students and employees can include their pronouns in ECU’s Learning Management System, Canvas (Course Management System), and on Microsoft Teams
- Students can designate the name they wish to have called out during their graduation ceremony and, should they change their name legally after graduation, they can get a new testamur at no cost
- Since 2022, ECU has hosted a TGDNB Meet and Greet session as part of the orientation program each semester. This is in addition to Pride and LGBTIQA+ events
- ECU asks students on enrolment if they are part of the LGBTIQA+ community. The question is optional, but many students are choosing to select ‘yes’ and enabling provision of specialised communications for support and involvement in targeted initiatives.
“ECU has made significant improvements toward TGDNB student experiences, but there is still more work to be done,” Stevie said.
“One of the most important things we can do for students is listen to where they are at and what they need, then tailor our support to their individual needs.”
The paper ‘Beyond Inclusion, Developing Guidelines to Support Tans, Gender Diverse and Non-Binary Communities’ is published in the Journal of the Australian New Zealand Student Services Association. ECU authors are Stevie Lane and Casey Thomas.