Trans Issues in Higher Education: Personal Encounters in Two Australian Universities

By Nyah Harwood and Melissa Vick.

Published by The International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations: Annual Review

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Gender is widely recognized as a major dimension of difference, with implications for social justice and equity on the one hand and opportunities to capitalize on diversity on the other. Trans-gender issues arise in institutions in relation to both trans people and understandings of trans as an aspect of gender that troubles many conventional understandings. The authors’ own encounters with policies, curriculum, practices and procedures, and personal relations in the universities with which they are associated indicate the scale and dimensions of the challenge facing institutions seeking to provide a supportive environment for trans people and understandings of trans/gender. Both universities have demonstrated clear intent to be at least supportive and understanding, but their performance has been uneven. In multiple contexts, they have demonstrated that the understandings of both gender and equity they bring to their working with trans people and issues are limited and simplistic. Working with such understandings, and not recognizing their limitations, perpetuates a culture that erases trans experiences and knowledge and is unable to provide a fully supportive environment for trans people. This limited recognition of and engagement with diversity in the case of trans people and issues offers insights into limitations in recognition and engagement with other marginalized groups and dimensions of diversity and point to needs for richer understandings of diversity to underpin the development of more nurturing and productive institutional environments.

Keywords: Transgender, Policy, Higher Education, Equity, Normativity

The International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations: Annual Review, Volume 12, 2012, pp.67-80. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 335.706KB).

Nyah Harwood

Research Assistant, School of Education, James Cook University, Cairns, Qld, Australia

Nyah Harwood currently lives in Cairns, Australia. She is engaged in her honours year in Cultural Studies at Southern Cross University. Her research examines the biopolitics of administrative classifications of sex and gender in Australia. She was on the organising committee for the first Queensland Transgender, Sistergirl and Gender Diverse Conference, held in Cairns. She was also a co-researcher in the "Trans voices" project at James Cook University, which looks at trans womens’ experiences of transition. Her interests are strongly focused on gender theory, trans feminism, as well as anti-oppression, sex work, and trans politics.

Dr. Melissa Vick

Associate Professor, School of Education, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld, Australia

Melissa Vick has researched in the histories of education and state of formation in nineteenth century Australia, teacher education in early twentieth century Australia and the UK, road safety and road safety education especially in relation to rural and Indigenous Australians, and mind body dualism in educational discourse. She has been Acting Head of School, and Director of Research and Research Training in the school in which she has worked since 1986. She is a Past President of the ANZ History of Education Society, was a member of the Qld government's Indigenous peoples driver licensing program Steering Committee and is a leader in the Australian Indigenous HealthInfonet road safety group.