Two years ago, Columbia University student Marnie Florin launched a “Trans 101” training for the MBA community to better educate us about the issues facing the transgender community. We were very lucky to have Marnie initiate this training, in addition to pushing for a gender neutral bathroom, as beforehand the concept of transgender was not a topic of conversation.
Even though Marnie has graduated, Cluster Q is proud to continue Marnie’s training as an annual tradition. We incorporate this training into our semi-annual Ally Week, which is geared towards engaging our ally community in educational and social programming.
The training itself is broken into a few sections: First, we help attendees understand the key differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation and describe how those concepts are independent from one another. For example, It is common for attendees to have made assumptions that a certain gender identity may then implies a certain sexual orientation. This untangles those assumptions.
Second, we define some key vocabulary and highlight some terms that are inappropriate. Many people haven’t sat down and learned the differences between terms like, “transgender”, “intersex”, “genderqueer”, etc. Plus, it’s helpful to hammer home what no-no words exist.
Third, we do a demonstration to highlight what it feels like for someone to be addressed in conversation with the wrong pronouns to then teach gender inclusive pronouns. Generally this means bringing up a cisgender audience member and having a facilitator mock a conversation where they use the opposite gender pronoun throughout to highlight the types of conversations many transgender or genderqueer people experience
Finally, we ask the audience to engage in an exercise that powerfully exhibits the extra hardship the transgender community experiences.
The training tends to have a very powerful effect on students as many attend out of simple curiosity and walk away having learned quite a bit.
Although Columbia is fortunate enough to have another transgender student currently, I would strongly encourage all business school (or really anyone!) to lead a similar training even without having an open student. The logic is threefold. First, just because a student isn’t openly transgender doesn’t suggest that there aren’t students on campus that keep their gender identity to themselves. Students could be struggling with gender identity discrimination or insensitivity behind closed doors. Second, it is Columba’s hope that this training sends the message that we want to create a space where transgender students will be openly accepted into the community. Finally, the statistics around the amount of discrimination transgender people face in the workplace are staggering. If MBA programs truly aim to create the next generation of professional leaders, we should be leaders equipped to work towards ending that workplace discrimination.
We are continuing to look for ways to make Columbia more trans-friendly. This training is only one example of such work. As Co-President of Cluster Q, I strongly urge anyone with other programs or ideas to comment here and share what is working on your campus so we can learn from you. In turn, I am more than happy for anyone to reach out to me to see more specifics about our training or the process of adding a gender neutral bathroom.