Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Emma and Kate's Super Fun Project Plan

For our project, we wish to expand our contact zones by exploring what it means to attend a women's college without identifying as a woman. This includes both transgender and gender nonconforming students at historically women’s colleges. We would like to look at the history of transgender and non conforming students at Bryn Mawr and other women’s colleges, and develop a timeline of milestones such as policy changes and student movements at these institutions to trace the extent of the history regarding this topic. We will extend our research policy research to women's colleges across the country when it comes to transgender and gender nonconforming students, to see how Bryn Mawr compares. We would also like to explore the use, and sometimes failure to use, of inclusive language on campus, such as the norm of using pronouns during introductions. We would also like to see how this practice has impacted Bryn Mawr's students in terms of their feelings of belonging in the community. Through interviews with transgender and gender nonconforming students at Bryn Mawr, as well as with members of administration and admissions at Bryn Mawr who have taken part in implementing new policies regarding these students, we hope to gain firsthand knowledge as to how students’ gender identity impacts their college application process, interactions with administration, and feeling of inclusion during their time at Bryn Mawr. Finally, we would like to come to a conclusion of what further action can be taken to improve conditions for these students on college campuses across the country.

My interest in this subject began when, this summer, I was asked by my co-workers at my local library what Bryn Mawr’s policies towards transgender students are. I could not answer; as a straight, cis-female, I had never had to look into my college’s policies on those who are transgender or gender nonconforming. As I thought this over, I realized that just because I do not identify with a certain group does not mean that I should not take the time to learn more about their experiences. Once I came to Bryn Mawr in August, I was greeted by people of all different ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Coming from a very homogeneous Massachusetts suburb, I was delighted to meet so many people who are so different than myself. Through Customs Week, I became enthralled by the use of pronouns and inclusive language on campus, and am today very curious as to how and when that tradition first was introduced to campus. In this project, I wish to gain knowledge on transgender and gender nonconforming students’ experiences, the policies that affect them, and how the use of inclusive language, or lack thereof, impacts their lives.

As a queer woman, I’ve been involved in a lot of groups focusing on the LGBTQ community in general, and often involved discussing or raising awareness for topics involving trans and gender nonconforming people. I was also the managing editor of my school newspaper during a period of time when my high school was making a lot of shifts towards being more trans-inclusive, such as adding gender-neutral bathrooms and having more discussions about gender identity. I ended up writing and editing a handful of stories about these changes, so I spent a lot of time talking with the trans and gender non-conforming students who were the driving force behind these changes, and their passion and motivation inspired me to get more involved with their cause. In addition to raising awareness through media, I ended up doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work with the school administration to make sure that these students were being heard and that their mission was being given the attention it deserved. Since I’m cisgender, I made an effort to engage in these issues in a way that centered the experiences of the students who were most affected by them, rather than speaking over them. I’d love to try to do some of the same at Bryn Mawr, and I think this project could be a great start. I’m really looking forward to doing research on the history of trans Bryn Mawr students and hearing from current students and staff about their experiences.

For our project, we are going to use several different methods to gather information about what it means to be a student who doesn’t identify as a woman at Bryn Mawr, both today and historically. We’re planning to look through the library archives for information about past trans and gender non-conforming Bryn Mawr students, in hopes of learning what kinds of similarities and differences there have been in their experiences throughout the history of Bryn Mawr. We’ll also look for information about campus policies about gender identity, and any student activism for trans equality. If possible, we may reach out to trans and gender non-conforming alumni to hear first-hand accounts of what it was like to attend Bryn Mawr during the time period in which they attended. We’re also planning to review campus policies, both past and present, about admission for trans and gender non-conforming students, as well as student, parent, and faculty reactions to these policies.

In addition, we’re hoping to interview several trans and gender non-conforming students currently attending Bryn Mawr. For confidentiality and safety reasons, we’re prepared to conduct these issues anonymously, at the request of the interviewee. We’ll ask questions about their experience at Bryn Mawr, how it compared to previous educational experiences, how they reconcile their identity with people’s notions of a typical women’s college student, issues about inclusive language/pronoun usage, and where they see room for improvement at Bryn Mawr.

We’re also planning to reach out to Alex Berndt and Dylan Hoffman about potentially attending a meeting of GenderQuest, although as it is meant to be a safe space for trans, genderqueer, non-binary, agender, genderfluid, etc, non-cis and/or questioning students, we’re prepared for the possibility of them not wanting us in that space. If that is the case, we’re still hoping to interview Alex, Dylan, or other GenderQuest members about what having a safe space means to them.

We are also hoping to interviews some members of the admission staff, like Amanda Barwise and Hannah Brukardt, about the 2015 decisions to admit trans women and what the official policies are for gender non-conforming students in terms of admission. We will also be on the lookout for inclusive or non-inclusive language in our day-to-day lives at Bryn Mawr, such as the language used in official emails and policies, or the way a speaker addresses a crowd of Bryn Mawr students. We hope that by being more conscious of the gendered language often used for students, we’ll be able to gain a bit of insight into the general campus attitudes and practices around inclusive language.



jccohen's picture

Emma and Kate,

I like your focus on the experience of people who don’t identify as women at women’s colleges, and appreciate your coming at this topic from the position of not being part of the group you propose to investigate.

Also, you’re seeking a larger and longer-term view of the issues as context for what you will investigate at Bryn Mawr.  In addition to the resources you name, Anne Dalke has done some work on this issue and will have some resources for you.  And you might also want to talk with Stephanie Nixon at Pennsby as well as CDAs on campus have worked with such questions as inclusive pronouns on campus.

In terms of methodology, you’re proposing a qualitative research blend that includes document gathering, interviews, and participant observation; the last is your being “on the lookout” with regard to gender inclusive language, and I suggest that you broaden this aspect of your learning from continuing to attend to what’s going on all around you and remind you to document this dimension of your inquiry!

Looking forward to what we'll learn about all this,