By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Transgender issues are the focus of the first Social Sciences Forum of the academic year.
Dr. Meghan Kahn, associate professor of psychology; clinical staff from Mandala House, an outpatient mental health center in Louisville; and members of the local Trans community will discuss the difference between sex and gender, social factors facing the Trans community, personal life experience as part of the community, and how to be an ally.
For many students, college may the their first opportunity to live as their true selves, according to Kahn.
That is undoubtedly liberating, but can also be intimidating.
“Students who identify as trans may be coping with stressors related to acceptance, so having a welcoming and supportive environment on a college campus can make a huge difference in their lives,” Kahn said.
Challenges to acceptance can range from being called by the wrong pronoun to being threatened with violence. A judgmental environment can also hinder self-acceptance. By contrast, a supportive environment can actually save their lives. According to Kahn, a 2016 study showed that lack of access to restrooms and housing in accordance with a student’s gender identity was associated with an increased risk of suicide.
Education is central to increasing understanding and to providing support. That means not only faculty educating students, but faculty becoming more adept themselves, whether it means designing more inclusive classes, making sure materials include diverse examples, or simply being conscious not to make assumptions about gender identities.
“Greater education and awareness give faculty and staff the knowledge and resources that they need to be confident advocates,” Kahn said.
Dr. Michael Day, director of personal counseling at IU Southeast, leads a team that has received training on gender identity and sexual orientation. They are all LGBTIQ+ allies, and have collaborative relationships with specialty providers in the communities for support groups or medical referrals, according to Day.
“We seek to provide an affirming environment for any and all students,” Day said. “Our goal is always to educate and decrease stigma and bias.”
For Kahn, the university has a crucial role to play in helping communities become more aware of the identities of their trans citizens, and more understanding of the challenges they face.
“We have tremendous power in higher education to select the types of experiences that we deem as valuable,” Kahn said. “Let’s use that power to elevate the voices of people who may not look like us or whose experiences may be different from our own.”
The Social Sciences Forum will take place on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 from 5:30-7 p.m. in UC 127. It is free and open to the public.