York St John University
Inclusivity in action
A university where everyone is welcome
York St John University is an organisation with a deep and authentic commitment to addressing inequalities, injustices and challenges facing society today. We have a great community of LGBTQ+ students, staff and allies who stand together to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues.
We are proud of being in the Stonewall Top 20 Trans Inclusive Employer (2020), and we were runners-up to the 2018 Guardian’s Student Experience Award. Our Athena SWAN bronze award for gender equality also recognises our excellent track record of trans inclusion. Our Students’ Union has an active LGBTQ+ Society who organise socials on campus and in the city and our LGBTQ+ Officer gives students a voice in the University and runs campaigns through the year.
One of the many ways we support our students is through our Trans and Non-binary Inclusive Framework, which sets out policies and procedures and a guide for staff and students.
To support the framework, we have:
- a designated student officer and named contacts in key services and the Students’ Union. This enables students and staff to speak confidentially to an understanding person.
- a Trans Inclusive Network with LGBTQ+ staff and student representation which has led to actions from tackling systemic errors in naming trans students to raising visibility by flying the trans flag.
- gender-neutral toilets on campus and sanitary provision for both women and trans men.
- trans awareness training through multiple channels.
Last year, we conducted an online survey about experiences as a trans student at York St John. Our aim was to find out how we can make it easy and comfortable for students who are embarking on transition journey, or who wish to be known as trans or non-binary, to tell others in the University and to access support if they need it.
We were surprised to find that while 35 students identified as trans, a further 19 identified as non-binary or with a self-described term. This highlighted for us that we need to talk about trans and non-binary people not just trans. We responded straightaway by changing the title of the trans inclusive framework to trans and non-binary inclusive framework.
There was good and not so good news.
All trans and non-binary respondents reported positive experiences, particularly with the transition process, feeling a strong sense of inclusivity and being supported by staff.
“I was really welcomed and encouraged when I came out and I had my name changed twice and the university has really allowed me to feel comfortable.”
“I haven’t been here long but it was nice to have gender neutral toilets and the pronoun badges given out at the LGBT society during the freshers fair were really helpful.”
“So far all staff have been incredibly respectful and supportive of me. My lecturers in particular have been very supportive and encouraging me to be myself which has been amazing to experience.”
However, we were disappointed that just over a third of the trans and non-binary students were not aware of support available. And whilst half of students felt able to discuss their trans identity/history with both students and staff, a further 31% felt able to do this with students only. Some respondents also reported experiencing anxiety about responses from the YSJ community, poor complaint handling and misgendering.
“I am nervous about students using my wrong name or my deadname being on the register when we go back.”
“Being outed by another student whilst living stealth at the time, reporting this to staff and nothing being done.”
“I’ve been unintentionally misgendered by people a couple of times, but that’s nobody’s fault :)”
We were grateful for the many suggestions for changes, for example
“More communication. Even if it was just an email detailing where you can go for certain things.”
“an accessible way to find trans and queer students on campus or online”
As a response to issues around helping students find us, and each other, we recently invited the co-ordinator of the Trans and Non-binary support group at York LGBT Forum to run a meet and greet on campus. This well-attended event helped students find out about what is available in the local York community, about the support at YSJU, and most importantly enabled them to meet others with shared experiences.
The survey shows that the York St John community is right to be proud of our reputation of being trans and non-binary inclusive.
But there is always more to do. The University has committed to the following actions in the next 5 years:
- improve information and communication so that all students and staff are aware of the Trans and non-binary Inclusive Framework and what support is available
- increase understanding of trans inclusivity within the wider YSJU community, through providing trans-related training for staff and activities to present research by trans scholars during diversity days
- provide trans students with access to peer support/socials at YSJU.
You can read more about our Trans and Non-binary inclusive Framework on our website.
You can read about our research into Chaplaincy support for trans and non-binary students and staff.
This article is adapted from a York St John University blog published in March 2022.
BY MARIJE DAVIDSON & ANNA DEACON
Trans flag flying over Lord Mayor’s Walk, 2021