The future of gender will change Queen’s for the benefit of everyone

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In this post, Dr. Lee Airton, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, talks about how future students will drive change on our campuses, as they will expect the availability of gender and sexual diversity content and supports

 

The Queen’s community will change a great deal in the coming decades, in part due to changes in how gender (and sexuality) are lived. In ten years alone, Queen’s will have welcomed and graduated several cohorts of students who have grown up with the highest degree of familiarity with gender and sexual diversity – both individuals and cultural phenomena – that has ever been seen among the general population. Attitudinal studies have shown that knowing a queer or transgender person has a causal relationship with expressing less homophobic or transphobic attitudes, so we can expect a student body with far more exposure and lay-person expertise. For my faculty members as well as Teaching Assistants, Term Adjuncts and Graduate Teaching Fellows, this student body will expect gender and sexual diversity content in their courses. In fact, course content will struggle to keep pace with the sheer volume of everyday lay-person and internet-sourced knowledge that students bring with them into the classroom, such that instructors who do not update their teaching materials or invite students to actively contribute their lay or experiential knowledge will struggle mightily. I also predict that any remaining gender binary-based traditions that automatically divide men and women will become optional. An example is the tradition of only women students being offered a bouquet to hold by the professional photographer taking their graduation photo; soon, every student will be asked whether they would like to participate, regardless of how they are expressing gender. Students themselves will drive these changes, not just for themselves as individuals, but because social norms will have shifted to the point that this is just not done anymore.

In addition to students arriving on campus with more knowledge of gender and sexual diversity, Queen’s can also expect an increasing number of students who are openly somewhere on the transgender spectrum, whether men, women, or nonbinary people. Driving factors behind this increase include K-12 schools vastly increasing the resources and supports in this area, and more and more transgender-spectrum children and youth being affirmed in their communities, families and schools. This means that fewer transgender-spectrum youth will be homeless or will have to leave school in order to keep themselves safe. Given how family and other supports contribute to post-secondary attendance and success, we will see a boom, particularly in transgender student enrollment. These will be empowered, supported and self-advocating transgender students with parents behind them who feel confident showing up and making the kind of demands on the university administration and bureaucracy that most generations of transgender people just could not expect from our parents, sometimes because of estrangement and sometimes because of a lack of knowledge of us and our needs, but this is changing. The rise of singular they/them – using the traditional ‘they are’ to refer to a single known person – will also continue, and will quicken. By 2030, everyone who teaches courses at Queen’s or whose position includes direct contact with students will have worked with at least one but more likely 3-5 students who have they/them pronouns.

The inevitability of these changes is quite striking, but there is still work to be done to get ready on both of our campuses, east and west. Through the wonderful work of the Trans Policy Group, Queen’s has field-leading policies on gender-neutral washroom inclusion in new builds and renovations, but this has not been consistently followed. One glaring example, to my mind, is the Agnes Etherington Art Centre; despite being one of the landmark renovations on campus and constantly in use for university-related and external functions, the Agnes does not have a public, accessible, gender-neutral washroom. I have been to a half-dozen events there in the past two years and seen different approaches to rectifying this ongoing problem, including not at all. Another example is our student information management system, SOLUS, which offers a preferred name field for students to use if they choose, but preferred names are not included on instructor-generated attendance lists, rendering this well-intentioned change quite impractical.

These are just two areas that require comprehensive exploration and updating, building on the tremendous amount of work by people who have preceded me in our community, many of whom are still here making their mark. As the tide of increasing gender diversity – including but not limited to transgender-spectrum people – continues to arrive on campus and highlight what needs to take place, I am confident we will continue to rise to the challenge.

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