Improving Law School for Trans* and Gender Nonconforming Students: Suggestions for Faculty
By Gabriel Arkles1
In a way, creating accessible, nondiscriminatory, and effective law school experiences for trans* and gender nonconforming2 students is easy. All of our skills as educators apply; we can simply extend our existing strategies and best practices. Like all students, trans* and gender nonconforming students benefit from professors who care about their learning and expect the best from them, create respectful classroom dialogue on difficult issues, provide meaningful feedback, and so on.
In another way, creating accessible, nondiscriminatory, and effective law school experiences for trans* and gender nonconforming students is fantastically difficult. Simply acknowledging trans* existence and accepting gender nonconforming people on their own terms requires an overthrow of a deeply entrenched view of gender in our society: that gender is a binary, fixed, universal, apparent, and apolitical truth. Many everyday classroom practices and longstanding university policies created with the best of intentions can harm trans* and gender nonconforming students because they are based on assumptions about gender that just don’t hold up. Partly because of these policies and practices, relatively few openly trans* and gender nonconforming people hold positions—especially the most powerful and prestigious positions—as faculty, staff, or students in law schools. Fortunately, more and more trans* and gender nonconforming people are entering law schools and many cisgender3 people want to learn how to work with them respectfully and effectively.
Like most worthy endeavors, transforming law schools to better support trans* and gender nonconforming students is not so much a matter of checking items off a list as engaging in an ongoing process. It requires participation of diverse stakeholders, attention to the particulars of unique institutions and situations, and respect for the perspectives of the people who are most directly impacted: trans* and gender nonconforming students themselves.
This document may help faculty take steps to improve some of their practices quickly and to start this larger process, but it is no substitute.4 In it, I address several major areas of concerns that can emerge by providing a general tip, examples of practices that need improvement, and examples of improved practices.