Faculty Discuss Transgender Issues – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Faculty Discuss Transgender Issues

On the heels of offering the first transgender studies class at HWS last semester, a group of faculty has formed the Transgender Faculty Learning Community (TFLC) on campus with the express goal of considering how to make HWS better for transgender people.

The collaborative reading and discussion group is facilitated by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Karen Frost-Arnold, Professor of Dance Donna Davenport, Visiting Assistant Professor of LGBT Studies Cael Keegan, and Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning and Assessment Susan Pliner. It meets in the Fisher Center every other Friday and is organized around the goal of becoming competent trans-allied teachers, allies and colleagues. Among other goals, they seek to: accurately understand transgender issues as they impact their students, campus and classrooms; incorporate teaching practices to better represent trans issues in their syllabi and classroom exercises; and promote what they have learned by sharing these strategies with other groups with whom the learning community’s participants are affiliated on and off-campus.

“The ultimate goal will be to make the HWS community a place that is more welcoming to trans people and that encourages faculty to think critically about how gender norms impact our teaching styles and course construction,” explains Keegan. “These questions are relevant to any classroom or pedagogical style, regardless of discipline.”

He notes recent studies reveal that transgender people face extreme prejudice in society, and often struggle with administrative and interpersonal forms of oppression that are not shared by more widely accepted LGB populations.

“I realize that I am ignorant about a lot of important transgender issues. While I try to learn as much as I can, I know I still have a long way to go,” adds Frost-Arnold. “I think faculty members have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the concerns facing all our students, including transgender students.”

Among the topics the group may address throughout the semester are: what it means to be transgender; unique issues transgender people face in society; learning about transgender history and culture to strengthen teaching and research across disciplines; becoming allies to transgender people; best classroom practices for teaching transgender students and/or transgender content and how the campus and community is experienced by transgender people, particularly given the Colleges’ coordinate system.

They will be reading a number of texts to facilitate discussions, the primary of which is “Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law,” by Dean Spade. Organizers also anticipate the inclusion of guest speakers in the program.

The LGBT Allies group on campus will also read one of the books being utilized by the faculty learning community, “Transgender Explained for Those Who are Not,” by Joanne Herman, to provide opportunity for more campus-wide discussion around the topic.

“The faculty learning community is full, which is a great success for diversity initiatives on campus,” says Keegan. “There is a group of faculty committed to gender justice meeting to learn about transgender identities and discuss our role in developing pedagogies that are inclusive to transgender subjects as well as students.”

In the photo above, Visiting Assistant Professor of LGBT Studies Cael Keegan leads a discussion during a Transgender Identities and Pedagogies Faculty Learning Community meeting in the Fisher Center.