Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Confluence of Transgender and Distance Ed?

An excellent trans-inclusion discussion panel I attended last night got me thinking about transgender and gender conformity issues at my own institution and within the library profession. Most certainly, my college has been super supportive in regards to my own transition and working environment.

But then I got to wondering if anyone has looked into the possibility that distance learning programs have a higher percentage of trans-identified/gender-questioning students than regular brick-and mortar ones. I think the environmental factors are there that might draw more gender non-conforming students than traditional higher ed environments:
  • Less safety concerns: in a distance learning environment, you can do your academic work relatively anonymously online, where gender expression and "fitting-in" would not be an issue or a possible weapon to be used against you in face-to-face social situations. You don't have to worry about walking across campus and being harassed or worse by drunken frat boys, etc.
  • Distance learning inherently draws older students and older trans-identified individuals are perhaps more likely to have grappled with gender expression issues and "come out."
  • You don't have to worry about bathroom usage issues as much.
  • You don't have to worry as much about your voice "outing" you to your classmates or causing confusion among your classmates.
  • You don't have to worry as much about generalized discrimination, because gender cues are not as important in online communications.
If it is the case, as I suspect, that institutions of higher ed with distance learning programs have higher transgender-identified student enrollments, this could have implications for service delivery and diversity training. Certainly, I think there might be opportunities to have a discussion or provide some form of training with faculty and library and support staff about awareness and issues that are involved in making the learning and administrative environments more trans-inclusive. Issues such as sensitivity to the use of pronouns, privacy, and awareness of activities and learning content that is traditionally gender-segregated/specific that doesn't have to be, might be addressed.

Anyone know of any research out there on this front? I did a very prelim search and didn't find anything...

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