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‘Take the lesson, not the story’: Saint Mary’s student hosts transgender inclusivity workshop

| Monday, November 22, 2021

Saint Mary’s senior Sophia Sanchez hosted a workshop on transgender inclusivity Friday afternoon, which was aimed at making the tri-campus community a more welcoming place for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Executive director of Transgender Resources Education and Enrichment Services (TREES) Megan Buell was in attendance to help answer questions and offer resources to participants.

Crystal Ramirez | The Observer
Saint Mary’s senior Sophia Sanchez leads a transgender inclusivity workshop alongside TREES executive director Megan Buell Friday afternoon.

To begin the event, Sanchez introduced herself and talked briefly about the work she does on campus, including being a student voice in the process of establishing the new LGBTQ+ Center and interning for TREES.

“I want to tell you a little bit about myself, just so you can understand why we’re here today sitting in a workshop about transgender inclusivity at an all-women’s Catholic college,” Sanchez said. “This semester I interned with [TREES] and Megan Buell, the executive director. I myself identify as a cisgender woman belonging to the LGBTQ community and have tried very hard to advocate for LGBTQ rights here at Saint Mary’s.”

Sanchez said she doesn’t have all the answers — her goal is simply to advocate and educate.

The workshop started with a discussion among guests. Sanchez gave attendees the chance to compile ground rules they would like to establish, then allowed guests to speak up as she listed the rules on a whiteboard.

A student spoke up. “One voice at a time.”

“Take the lesson, not the story,” Sanchez added to the ground rules — a reminder that stories shared during the workshop should remain in the space, but the lesson learned should stay with those gathered.

Following the establishment of these ground rules, Sanchez went over some vocabulary she said she felt would be helpful for the workshop, and she elaborated on the resources available for guests to refer to and take home after the workshop. She then introduced Buell, who spoke briefly on her background and work with TREES.

Sanchez then introduced an ice breaker so that guests at each table could engage with one another. The ice breakers dealt with different experiences transgender students face on college campuses.

After the ice breaker, Sanchez played a video of a transgender student’s experience at James Madison University. She said she chose this video because she believes there are a lot of similarities with the College.

“I found this video … and it’s a little video about transgender student experiences [at James Madison University]. I do want to say that Saint Mary’s does not have like this kind of resource available which is why I chose to outsource to a different college,” Sanchez said. “Also, … I chose this video because I think there’s a lot of parallels between JMU and Saint Mary’s.” 

Once the video ended, Sanchez spoke on the issues and experiences students face on the college campus and how she evidences these issues occur at Saint Mary’s.

“The student and video talks about a couple of different things that are happening on their campus that I see happening on our campus,” Sanchez said. “So, the first one is alienation or staring because of the way someone is dressed. I know that we have this campus culture and expectation of how students that go here dress and act and who they hang out with and where they’re going to parties.”

Sanchez continued speaking about the issues transgender students face on university campuses, noting that everyone can work toward changing.

Following the discussion of the video, Sanchez discussed issues impacting the Saint Mary’s campus, including pronouns on student identification cards, bathroom accessibility and diplomas.

Sanchez also brought up the issue of misgendering, which can happen anywhere within a campus setting — in the classroom, among peers and with faculty or administration.

“So, misgendering could be using the wrong pronouns when referring to a student,” she said. “I know that the alum that I did speak with that was transgender talked about this happening quite often in class.”

Sanchez highlighted some progress she said Saint Mary’s has made. She said she wants to reassure participants that “things won’t stay like this forever because we’re doing workshops like this and we have more resources now on campus.”

In speaking about these accomplishments, Sanchez mentioned the recent opening of the LGBTQ+ Center and the newly established Office for Student Equity, as well as the creation of the first affinity group for LGBTQ+ alums.

Sanchez also took a moment to acknowledge the discrimination occurring beyond the campus community.

“I feel like I also have to speak to discrimination not just on campus, but in our American society,” Sanchez said. “I feel like it would be some type of erasure if I didn’t say anything about what’s going on right now.”

Sanchez provided information to those in attendance, raising awareness on a lack of inclusivity in society and on the abundance of discrimination against the transgender community.

“Transgender people experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population. With rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate,” Sanchez said. “Ninety percent of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination [in] their job. Forty-one percent of people surveyed reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.”

To conclude the workshop, Sanchez referred to the audience for suggestions and ways that the school can work to create a more inclusive community. Groups discussed among themselves, then came together as one big group to list takeaways everyone can apply once they leave the workshop to continue creating a welcoming and inclusive campus.

“Today, we talked about a lot of things,” Sanchez said. “Take some of these things and maybe share them with someone, one fact or something that you learned today. Share it with someone who’s not here, maybe your roommate or someone you see in passing. Even if you feel so inclined or comfortable that you can maybe add your pronouns to the bottom of your email signature. I think that’s a great start.”

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