#DiversityinHigherEd – Trans*-Affirmative Classrooms

As diversity in higher education becomes more of a focal point and a means to reflect on our own institutions and practices as academics, we will be re-posting material related to these issues on the first Thursday of every month. This post is borrowed from Conditionally Accepted.

Strategies for Creating More Trans*-Affirmative Classrooms

By Z Nicolazzo

The beginnings of academic years are exciting times full of possibility and potential for educators. Despite how often I feel as if summers slip by too quickly, something about the start of a new academic year makes me smile with anticipation. But as a trans* academic, I am also aware of the shadow side of new academic years: the feelings of trepidation that I and my fellow trans* faculty, administrators and students feel.

Whether it be not having our proper names and genders recognized, the challenges of navigating trans*-exclusive health care, or having to meet new people who may not see us as fully — or even marginally — human, the excitement of a new year can stoke anxiety, fear and concern.

As I discuss in my book, Trans* In College, colleges are steeped in transgender oppression, or the cultural ideology that poses trans* people as inherently less than human. As a result, trans* people face a web of interrelated negative experiences throughout campus settings. For example, participants in my study described hearing transphobic comments made in classes (that were not checked by faculty), experienced intense scrutiny of their gender expressions and rarely saw themselves reflected in the faculty and staff members on campuses. Indeed, attending college can pose a series of obstacles for trans* people.

And yet trans* students continue to thrive. As the participants and I discussed during our work together, they continued to cultivate practices of resilience, or strategies to navigate what they already knew to be college campuses that were not constructed with them in mind. Those strategies were wide-ranging and included things like not walking through certain areas of campus they knew to be unsafe for them, texting and calling friends to let them know where they were going, sticking together in groups, and moving off campus — including going online — to cultivate community. In many respects, the participants and I discussed not needing to wait for others to create safer spaces for them — they could develop their own strategies for success.

That doesn’t mean nontrans* people should not be active in making change. Rather, whole trans* students want, need and are already working toward structural change. They are also developing their own strategies for navigating the campus climates they know to be laced with transgender oppression.

That said, it remains important for academics to take an active role in creating trans*-affirming educational experiences. Moreover, we need to do this before trans* students show up in our classrooms; we have the power to invite and/or foreclose opportunities for trans* students just by the ways we approach our teaching.

Thus, I created the following list of strategies for educators to create trans*-affirming classrooms:

  • Don’t call roll. Administrative, legal and economic barriers often keep trans* people — including trans* youth — from being able to change their birth names. Faculty members should allow students to name themselves. If they find discrepancies between the names a student shares and the official roll, they should defer to the student. After all, we let students use different versions of their birth names all the time (e.g., Mike instead of Michael), so why would that be any different for trans* students?
  • Use your position to demand trans*-inclusive facilities. If you teach in higher education, demand to do so only in buildings with trans*-inclusive restrooms. If you teach in K-12 settings, make sure your administration has created access to restrooms for trans* youth (and not just when trans* students come forward to seek them). If you cannot make immediate change, don’t give up; movements toward justice can be slow, but persistence is crucial. Also, those who teach in higher education can always list the closest trans*-inclusive restrooms to the classroom on the syllabus.
  • Share name and pronoun policies. If students can change their names and pronouns administratively, let students know. If not, let students know they can use the names and pronouns they feel most comfortable using in your class, and if they change throughout the course/year, they can talk with you about how to share those changes with their peers.
  • Highlight trans* knowledge. Trans* people are in every industry and field. Highlight trans* people and knowledge through your lessons, readings and classroom discussions. Even if your class is not focused on gender, it’s still important to draw on diverse knowledge bases, which includes trans* communities.
  • Do your own learning. Don’t expect trans* students to teach you about all things trans*. In my research, trans* students discussed the exhaustion and tokenization they experienced having to teach peers and teachers about trans* lives. Educators can mitigate this exhaustion by taking advantage of the wealth of publicly accessible knowledge, media, art and writing to learn more about trans* populations.
  • Don’t out trans* students. Being out is not always the safest or best option for them. Be careful about trans* students’ safety and privacy in your teaching, especially when talking with other educators and/or family members. That means not pointing out, focusing on or talking about a student being trans* — even if they have shared this with you.
  • Interrupt transphobia. Trans* students continually share stories with me of hearing transphobic statements in class and their teachers doing nothing. A student once told me her teacher even laughed along while a nontrans* peer “joked” about wanting all trans* people to die. Educators need to create classrooms where those sorts of violent statements are not tolerated.
  • Remember trans* students are more than their trans*ness. Trans* people have a multitude of identities, interests and experiences. Remember not to flatten us to our gender, as this becomes exhausting and limits our possibilities.
  • Own your missteps. If you mess up, own it. Unlearning gender socialization takes time, and you are bound to make mistakes. Owning those mistakes and then not making them again is essential.
  • Commit to gender-aware education. We all have been socialized to view gender as a binary. Learning and implementing gender-aware practices takes time. Be patient with yourself, but make an ongoing commitment to create more trans*-affirming classrooms.

While this list captures some suggestions for creating more trans*-affirming classrooms, there are certainly more (e.g., use language like “people,” “folks” or “y’all” instead of “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”). While we know it won’t happen overnight, trans* people need change to occur. Educators have a crucial role to play in the movement toward trans* justice, and classrooms are a great place to start.


Z Nicolazzo is assistant professor of trans* studies in education at the University of Arizona. You can follow Z on Twitter at @trans_killjoy as well as on hir website (www.znicolazzo.weebly.com)

This post originally appeared in Conditionally Accepted on October 12, 2018

#DiversityinHigherEd – Limited by Publications

As diversity in higher education becomes more of a focal point and a means to reflect on our own institutions and practices as academics, we will be re-posting material related to these issues on the first Thursday of every month. This post is borrowed from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

How Much Does Publishing in Top Journals Boost Tenure Prospects? In Economics, a Lot

By Audrey Williams June

For academics on the tenure track, the pressure to publish at all costs and in the top journals in their field is immense. That’s because meeting that professional standard matters — a lot.

How much does it matter for academic economists? A new working paper by James J. Heckman, a Nobel laureate and economist, and Sidharth Moktan, a predoctoral fellow, provides a look. Both are at the University of Chicago.

They analyzed job and publication data of tenure-track faculty members hired by the top 35 economics departments in the nation and found that publishing in a top-five journal is a “powerful determinant of tenure in academia” and an “important predictor of professional success.” In short, the more top-five publications, the better. The outsize influence of The American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, and The Review of Economic Studies is referred to in the paper’s subtitle as “The Tyranny of the Top Five.”

Here are four takeaways from the paper:

1) Junior professors are hyperaware of the top five’s ability to make or break careers.

Heckman and Moktan also surveyed more than 308 assistant and associate professors in the top 50 economics departments in the nation and asked them which of eight different areas of performance they believed most influenced tenure and promotion. The number of publications in top-five journals received the highest mean, with external letters — that often highlight the number of top-five articles published or in the works — coming in second. At the bottom, across the board: chapters and books.

Young economists also believe, on average, that at least 89 out of 100 tenure committees will award tenure to a candidate who has top-five publications over an identical candidate who has the same quantity and quality of publications in journals outside the top five.

2) The top five journals are shaping junior faculty members’ research agendas — and not for the better.

Ideally, young economists pursue topics with the goal of generating knowledge in the field. But Heckman notes, in the paper, that over the years he’s talked to many graduate students, postdocs, and assistant professors about interesting research projects only to be told “that is a great idea, but it will not lead to a top-five” publication. Data-intensive empirical projects don’t fit into the top-five mold, which gives junior faculty members little motivation to pursue them.

The top-five system, the paper says, “incentivizes careerism rather than creative scholarship.” Old habits die hard, the researchers note. Some senior economists are chasing the top five too, since their reward system — promotion, recognition, and salaries — is linked to them, the paper says.

3) Landing in a top-five journal is harder than ever.

Tenure-track economists are heeding the message that tenure-and-promotion committees are sending about publishing in key journals, but in reality the odds are against them. Space in the top five journals hasn’t grown much since 1990; meanwhile, submissions to them have increased, the paper says. The acceptance rates at leading journals dropped from 15 percent in 1980 to 6 percent in 2012. And many academics “do not practice what they preach,” the researchers write. They read and cite papers from journals outside of the top five and then turn around and use top journals as a filter to screen prospective candidates.

4) The discipline needs to find a better way to measure scholarly potential.

One way to do that, the authors say, is to add a few more influential journals to the top-five mix. But that doesn’t keep academics from judging potential “based on a track record of publications in a handful of select journals.” If departments did close reads on published and unpublished papers, that would “signal that they both acknowledge and adequately account for the greater risk associated with serious scholars working at the frontiers of the discipline,” the paper says. The researchers also propose a “more radical” shift to an open-source system that would allow new ideas to be tested and get online real-time peer review. Doing nothing, however, is a bad move: “Academic economics risks becoming (or remaining) a group of top-five plodders putting one foot in front of the other,” the authors write.


Audrey Williams June is a senior reporter who writes about the academic workplace, faculty pay, and work-life balance in academe. Contact her at audrey.june@chronicle.com, or follow her on Twitter @chronaudrey.

This post originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education on October 1, 2018 https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Much-Does-Publishing-in/244694