Supporting Trans and Gender-Nonbinary Students

Students and staff outside Dowling Hall, October 18, 2018. (Anna Miller/Tufts University)
Students and staff outside Dowling Hall, October 18, 2018. (Anna Miller/Tufts University)

by Ryan Rideau, Associate Director for Teaching, Learning, and Inclusion at the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), and Hope Freeman, Director of Tufts’ LGBT Center and Interim Director of the Women’s Center

Faculty recently gathered at Tufts’ Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) to learn from Hope Freeman, Director of Tufts University’s LGBT Center and Interim Director of the Women’s Center, about how faculty can support transgender and gender-nonbinary students.

A person who is transgender (also known as “trans”) identifies as a gender different from the gender or sex one is assigned at birth. A person who is nonbinary identifies outside of the typical binary norm, and may identify as both man and woman or neither man nor woman. (These definitions are cited from QueerUndefined).

At her meeting with faculty, Freeman provided a set of recommendations for supporting these students, a selection of which are summarized here—

Understand the national climate and Tufts’ climate for trans and gender-nonbinary students

In order to truly support our trans and gender-nonbinary students, we must understand the climate in which our students are living. Tufts is not isolated from a national climate that continues to threaten trans and gender-nonbinary students’ civil rights and lives. For example, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case which considers whether discrimination laws protect gender expression. Additionally, at least 20 trans women of color have been killed in 2019. On and around Tufts campus, students have been targets of acts of homophobia and transphobia. As a result, many trans and gender-nonbinary students do not feel safe in their daily lives. An important role faculty can play is to to recognize and acknowledge what our students are experiencing. Faculty can listen to their stories and advocate for them. Contact Hope or Ryan to learn more about advocacy—our contact information is below. While our students may not always feel safe, it is our responsibility to try our best to ensure safety in the spaces we control. This will help them to access the full range of learning opportunities in our classrooms. 

Allow students opportunities to share their names and pronouns

In many of our classrooms, it’s common on the first day to ask students to share their names and pronouns. While this can be a valuable exercise in normalizing the idea of gender as a social construct, it also has the potential to make some trans and gender-nonbinary students uncomfortable. As Susan Marine shows, for students who are grappling with questions about their identity or do not feel safe revealing their gender identity, forcing them to identify their pronouns before they are ready can further marginalize them. To mitigate this, give students the option to reveal their pronouns but do not mandate it. Similarly, allow students to use names they prefer. Avoid reading your class roster aloud on the first day of class, as the names listed may not accurately represent the identity of your students. Rather, allow students to share their names, and as an instructor, use the names they prefer. Finally, give students multiple opportunities to identify their names and pronouns throughout the semester, keeping in mind that for some students, their names and pronouns may change during the semester. All Tufts students, faculty, and staff can change their preferred name in Tufts ID system. This guide explains how.

If you make a mistake and accidentally mis-gender or mis-name someone, acknowledge it and move on quickly

Many of us fear misgendering or deadnaming a student. Deadnaming is the practice of referring to someone by a name they no longer use. When we are made aware of committing one of these acts towards a student, we may feel guilty and want to acknowledge our actions. However, it is important to remember why we are apologizing. The needs of the person who we inflicted harm upon should remain our primary concern. Though it may relieve the guilt, making a grand gesture in public about our mistake can further stigmatize and out the individual. Instead, we should acknowledge our mistake in the moment and move on quickly. It’s essential to then speak to the individual we hurt privately, in order to apologize and ask what they need in that moment. We want to ensure that the student feels supported in our classrooms, so it’s important to respond to their needs rather than assume what is best for them.

These are just a few of the many important recommendations Hope Freeman shared with faculty at the recent CELT meeting. This list is only a start, and there are many other actions faculty and staff can take to support our trans and gender-nonbinary students. Additional resources are posted below to support your continued learning.

If you have additional questions, please feel free to reach out:
Hope Freeman,, Director of the LGBT Center
Ryan Rideau,, Associate Director for Teaching, Learning, and Inclusion at CELT

Additional Resources

Tufts Resources on Policy per Gender/Gender Identity

Background Information on “Legal” Discrimination and Public Accommodations in MA based on Gender/Gender Identity

National Policy

Intersectional Lens


See Also