Welcome Week: a time where incoming students and returning students alike are given a chance to take a deep breath, embrace the atmosphere of campus for the first time or once again and prepare for a long, sometimes arduous, semester and school year. The mood is relaxed, the classes are easy and everything is geared towards helping students make an easy possible a transition from the slow days of summer to the busy months to come.
But for a long time, it’s been difficult for a some students to feel truly welcomed at the university, and indeed, in universities across the country. Students whose gender identity doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth, for example, have faced troubles and complications along the way to a college education.
UNO has dedicated itself to easing that transition, and is attempting to truly welcome transgender students and nonbinary identifying students into an inclusive, accommodating space.
In the HPER building, the University has implemented gender inclusive locker rooms, so that students aren’t forced to choose between going against their identity and exposing themselves to a potentially uncomfortable environment, or being denied the service they deserve. The workers are trained not to make assumptions about a person’s gender identity and signage is also worded neutrally.
The university also provides detailed maps on the website pointing to gender-neutral restrooms, an obviously vital thing to ensure students who might feel threatened or uncomfortable in their assigned rooms and those of their own identity.
The university has also rolled out gender inclusive housing. From now on, assigned gender identity doesn’t have to be a factor in the choice of housing for a transgender or nonbinary student. These students will hopefully not have to face as much pressure to suppress or conform in a certain way, and be able to live more freely as a result. Doing at least this much to erase the potentially restrictive expectations placed heavily on a transgender student is a very welcoming gesture.
Of course, none of these changes will fundamentally change the nature of a transgender student’s life. In our modern society, there’s perhaps no demographic as casually discriminated against, subject to ridicule and just plain thoughtlessness, and generally ill-prepared for. Transgender students will doubtless have to wade through mountains of uncomfortable and even dangerous experiences through their time at University and in their lives in a society that can get violent towards them.
A man recently forced his way into a woman’s restroom in an Omaha bar, and violently attacked a transgender woman for her identity and presence in the restroom she felt the most comfortable in, hurling homophobic slurs and throwing punches. The university hopes to head off these horrible incidents by providing student’s gender-inclusive havens, but the unfortunate reality is that the mentality behind such violence may not be much changed by these measures.
But even if the university’s efforts fell short of the mark, and even though a transgender student will still face pressure and stigma from society and even in the university environment, it can be hoped these promising changes serve to make these students feel that they are welcomed, valued, and that efforts are being made on their behalf to lighten their load, regardless of what they may encounter from others.