This is the second article in the user series by Jhatkaa on YKA called ‘Gender in the Classroom’, where we aim to have conversations that push for an equal and consensual classroom. You can read the rest of the articles here.
Trigger Warning: Mentions of Queermisia (otherwise known as Queerphobia)
Conversations around sex and sexuality have for long been focused on how to prevent young individuals from having consensual sexual experiences with their partners. A lack of comprehensive sexuality education and gender sensitisation at educational institutions has left a lot of young individuals feeling lost about exploring their sexuality or partaking in sexual experiences.
This has harmful ramifications, especially for marginalised gender groups. They are unable to understand whom to approach when their consent is violated or when they have questions around consent or boundaries. It is also important to acknowledge that training guides that are primarily made by cis-heterosexual individuals appropriate struggles of queer individuals. Moreover, marginalised gender groups also feel a sense of isolation as they feel there are no safeguards in place for them.
Campus administrators partake in providing an experience that is shaped by the gender binary. Examples include admission forms that are guided by a choice of ‘three genders’, or professors using gendered terminology like ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen.’
To gain a better understanding of how a lack of intervention on gender sensitivity in campuses affects students, we got in touch with a few queer individuals.
Exclusionary or prejudicial behaviours are normalised in educational settings to a huge extent. A lack of educational systems that make students aware of prejudices creates further obstacles.
Although many students from colleges or universities are themselves making an effort to build support systems to help marginalised gender groups on campus, these efforts need to be supported by administrative backing. A lack of acknowledgement in mainstream educational narratives in the form of inclusive syllabi, seminars or training programs adds to building harmful stigma.
An emphasis on building course structures as well as manuals made by members of the queer community is crucial to bringing these narratives within dominant perception. The NCERT manual for instance which focused on building an inclusive course structure must be brought back.
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Only by listening to and actively engaging in the discourse around the marginalisation of gender and sexual identities can prejudice be tackled.
We asked some people about their experiences of facing homophobia and the following is what they shared.
A gender-queer individual, Frescoe*said, “I, thankfully, never had a queerphobic classmate, I think that’s partly because I studied psychology, and people were trained into making an effort to be more open-minded and empathetic. But they still followed misogynistic, cishet mindsets. A bunch of my classmates were also queer, but none of us was ‘visibly’ expressive about it.”
They went on to speak about the apathy that college administrations exhibit. They said, “During my Bachelor’s, few friends in my course and I were trying to form a Queer Collective on campus. We thought the Psychology department would be a good place to start but the majority of my faculty was very dismissive. They did not want to encourage such “political notions” on an apolitical campus, didn’t want to invite drama, and more such excuses.
I was after them trying to get this done for over two years, by the end of which I had nearly 60 people from different courses join in through word-of-mouth alone. The college administrators didn’t budge; they told us to drop the idea. Then the pandemic settled and I eventually graduated.”
Another student, Jay*, mentioned the blatantly queerphobic ways in which classmates reacted to them when they tried speaking about queerness. They say, “Being from a town where I didn’t have anyone to tell these things to at all, I found Delhi and the colleges, in particular, to be freer, though I didn’t discuss my sexuality too openly at first. We started trying to get a survey from students about queer issues and how they feel about it, and that’s probably the first instance of homophobia in the college I faced, still in the first semester.
“Several people started running away when they got to know what we were doing the survey for. They got that look on their face too like they were scared someone might have seen them around us. It was a little thing at the time and didn’t really dampen our spirits, but it was the first thing I can remember.”
It is also important to note that students who perceive college campuses to be more ‘liberating’ are often faced with a rude wake-up call that threatens them with discrimination and prejudicial attitudes. Even though college campuses can be seen as spaces to have conversations surrounding pertinent issues of gender and gender violence, faculty and students often shy away from them.
A transgender student, Neo*, tells us about how they feel excluded by their faculty members coming from an all-women’s college.
They talk about how faculty members use heavily gendered terms like ‘ladies,’ to refer to those who may not identify as women. These terms play into the harmful ways non-binary and trans students feel alienated from their college campuses due to deliberate misgendering. Neo says, “I think faculty members need to stop treating every person out there, every student out there as girls and ladies because that feels very demeaning.”
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For marginalised gender groups it is imperative for campuses to take a more active approach to train faculty members (both teaching and non-teaching) about gender sensitivity. Interventions in this form are a great way to begin these conversations.
These interventions not only benefit marginalised gender groups but also help raise awareness for allies. While some colleges do have queer collectives, a lack of administrative support ends up making them feel still excluded.
A student who is part of a queer collective on campus says, “I feel that there’s a need to have a set code of conduct that [allocates] spaces for marginalized communities…I don’t mean informal spaces. The college needs to support them, fund them. And that’s very important.”
Frescoe tells us, “I believe there’s a very pressing need for children to be taught about queerness and gender sensitivity from the time they’re in high school itself. It’s a part of them that needs to be explored, not pushed aside or shut in a box. Faculty members must undergo training for the same to know how to deal with these situations (blatant queerphobia, misgendering, lack of redressal mechanisms), invite questions and be open to helping students navigate through this journey or direct them to the right people.”
It is not just important for campuses to undergo this training on paper. Institutional rules and regulations are able to make marginalised students feel safer as well. Jay says, “Some anti-queerphobia rules in the anti-ragging section would help, but I think for transphobia, in particular, there need to be changed on a more institutional level.
For instance, our college is a women’s college, there was never proper clarity on whether it applied only to cis women. I knew some trans men in the college and the principal was aware of them too and it didn’t seem to be an issue, but something more stringent has to be done to address the transmisogyny in cis-women dominated spaces too.”
They also tell us how a queer collective helped them find a strong foundation and confidence on campus. They say, “Our collective did get formalised eventually and it worked quite well in its newfound capacity. Sure, we did the sensitisation events and everything, but at the end of it, our primary goal always had been to be a space where any queer person can walk in without fear of being bullied, outed, mocked, or invalidated.
And though I have left the college now, and probably don’t know many of the people in the collective anymore, I’d still feel safe in a room with them, and I believe that has to count for something.”
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Gender sensitivity entails a more comprehensive approach to creating a safe space for marginalized gender groups. Training programs that take into account lived experiences and make an effort to do better moving forward are important. Administrators must take into account queer experiences and involve them in policy implementation apart from partaking in training programs and workshops.
Providing administrative support to marginalised gender groups on campus is a crucial step forward in building a gender-sensitive and safe campus for all. Moreover, supporting existing queer collective and making attempts to educate and raise awareness on a large scale level is important. Starting conversations and being vocal about these issues is the starting point to beat the stigma and prejudice against marginalised gender groups.
*Names changed to maintain anonymity