'We want to raise the bar'
The International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20 is an occasion marked by great sadness. It memorializes those who were killed due to anti-trans hatred or prejudice — widely known as transphobia.
For Gabrielle Bouchard, trans advocacy coordinator at Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy, it’s also a sober occasion to discuss the position of trans students on campus.
“Student ID cards, class lists, campus bathrooms — these things, and more, are difficult to navigate if you’re a trans student,” says Bouchard. “But there’s already a dialogue at Concordia and a great willingness to adapt and welcome sexual and gender diversity.”
Bouchard just returned from the 2016 regional NASPA conference, the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. She co-presented a talk, “Achievements and Challenges of Serving Trans Students at Concordia University”, with Gaya Arasaratnam, director of Concordia’s Campus Wellness and Support Services (CWSS), Lisa Ostiguy, deputy provost, and Andrew Woodall, dean of students.
Concordia’s early achievements in transgender support
Concordia’s presentation at the NASPA conference showcased the university’s historic and ongoing efforts to accommodate trans students. For example, the 131 gender-neutral bathrooms across campus.
“Very few universities have gender-neutral bathrooms, and never in those numbers!” says Bouchard.
She points out that Concordia was also an early adopter of guidelines for changing your name of common use. It allows trans students to use their preferred name on things like ID cards and class lists — everything, basically, except for their official transcript, where students’ full legal names are required for governmental records (Learn how to make a preferred name request.)
Arasaratnam at CWSS concurs that Concordia is at the forefront of delivering trans care.
“We already do hormone maintenance injections, which is incredibly unusual in a campus setting,” she says.
“Now we're going further. We’re learning about best practices and how to apply them to an urban campus setting. In 2017, for example, we’re moving toward intiating hormone therapy and working with partners such as McGill to offer additional transition supports such as vocal feminization. We're also working with experts in the field and partners across Quebec because we're not only interesting in raising the bar at Concordia, but raising the bar across the province.”
“It’s brand new territory — pioneering days”
For the first time, Concordia and McGill will share advanced training sessions for counselors and health care providers on how to best serve trans students.
“It’s brand-new territory — pioneering days — so it’s important to build a network of support for our staff with partners and allies like McGill,” says Arasaratnam, adding. “There’s significant awareness building for our staff that we'd like to do to help them become more comfortable as they help trans students along their process.”
And let’s not forget students’ parents. They have many questions and concerns about their children, who may have started transitioning while living away from home.
“How do we pro-actively prepare for these discussions with parents and ensure they are part of this journey in a way that is comfortable for the student? These are important and sensitive issues that need to be carefully considered.,” says Arasaratnam.
Her team at CWSS is building the necessary support processes to buttress this work.
We are committed to providing the best possible support for Concordia’s students,” Arasaratnam says. “We do good things now, and humbly acknowledge that there's scope to do even better.”
Bouchard appreciates that Concordia is always striving to improve things. She hopes that one day there will be core curriculum on gender and sexual diversity, as well as better promotion of things like the gender-neutral bathrooms and the Name of Common Usage policy.
Referencing statistics from the Trans Pulse project’s research results, released in 2010, Bouchard notes that between 68 and 78 per cent of transgender people in the study had experienced physical or sexual violence at school. Hence, she’s relieved about the implementation of the new policy regarding sexual violence at Concordia.
“The work that is being done to support trans students at Concordia is truly a collaboration between students and the administration,” says Woodall, dean of students. “Without the expertise and energy of the Centre for Gender Advocacy and the willingness and openness on behalf of my colleagues, we would not be seeing the changes that are leading to increased student success for some of our most at-risk students.”
Read the student guidelines for changing your name of common use at Concordia and learn how to make a preferred name request. View the policy regarding sexual violence at Concordia.
Visit the Campus Wellness and Support Services Centre (CWSS) to learn more about wellness services on campus, and find out how to make an appointment with a counsellor.