Students, professors, and activists from the Philadelphia area gathered at the LGBT Center on Oct. 29 for the first event hosted by the Penn Trans Literacy Project, a series of panels and workshops designed to promote literacy in trans issues on campus and beyond.
The event included a panel of three local university professors: Heath Fogg Davis, the director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies Program at Temple University, Melissa Sanchez, an associate professor of English from Penn, and Jessa Lingel, an assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication.
At the Monday event, the three professors discussed the role of feminist, queer, and trans theory and inclusion of non-cisgender students in the classroom. Davis brought up the role of teachers in incorporating their students' gender identities into classroom discourse.
“It kind of goes back to this question about what’s our role in this situation? What’s important about our students' gender identities in this particular context of the classroom? What do we need to know?” Davis said. “Because there’s the issue of a student maybe wanting me to know or his instructors to know something about their gender identity versus what they want their peers in the class to know.”
In the workshop's open question and answer portion, attendees expressed their own difficulties in having professors and fellow students acknowledge their gender identities.
“One of the most frustrating things, and it’s not just Penn but my undergrad institution as well, was when professors would ask me [about preferred pronouns] and then they would not respect what I said," Graduate School of Education student Jax Lastinger said. “Or you would have signs in your classes where you were asked to put your pronouns … my peers wouldn’t use my correct pronouns and my professor wouldn’t do anything.”
Philadelphia resident Samantha Pocos agreed, adding that she thought it would be useful for college instructors to be trained in "safe zone facilitation," which would help them become aware of how to construct a comfortable classroom space for their students.
Launched for the first time this year, the Trans Literacy Project is designed to involve and engage members across disciplines and communities, organizers said. The workshop on Tuesday was made possible by an Alice Paul Center Working Group Grant. The LGBT Center, Penn’s English Department, the School of Social Policy & Practice, and the Graduate School of Education co-sponsored.
“There’s frequent conversations among queer and trans students about the volume of the silence in classroom spaces at the University level around queer and trans issues,” Project organizer and School of Social Policy & Practice graduate student Kel Kroehle said. “And so I think the idea with these conversations was to bring in folks who are doing good work in different spaces to think about how we can thread these more consistently through the University.”
The next Trans Literacy Project seminar will be held Nov. 15 in the LGBT center, and will focus on teaching beyond the gender binary.
Kroehle said the reception of the first Project event was encouraging.
"I think what we saw tonight is that people are doing incredible work and they’ve got great ideas and that the audience gave," Kroehle said. "So I think it's just a matter of encouraging the University to tap into that.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Penn's graduate school as the School of Social Policy, when in fact it is the School of Social Policy & Practice. The DP regrets the error.
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