Session focuses on how to better support trans students

Meagan Stackpool

In an age when the voices of transgender people everywhere are often suppressed and ignored, one person came to Colorado State University to discuss how trans students can be better supported on campus.  

Z Nicolazzo, an assistant professor of trans+ studies in education and the co-chair of the Transgender Studies Research Cluster at the University of Arizona, was brought to campus by the Pride Resource Center, the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and other campus organizations Thursday to shine a light on how to better serve trans students and take the burden of educating off trans students themselves. 

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Dora Frias, director of the Pride Resource Center at CSU, introduced Nicolazzo and shared why her presence was so important. 

“We have received data over the last few years that indicates our LGBTQ students, particularly our trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students, experienced campus in ways that have significantly impacted their mental health, sense of safety and academic success,” Frias said. “We’re thankful that Z (Nicolazzo) is here to engage our campus community in ways that will hopefully have a direct impact on bettering the experiences of our trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming CSU community.”

Frias said Nicolazzo dedicates her career to research and training to create safer spaces for trans students, takes a decidedly affirmative standpoint and seeks to explore the ways transgender students are successful despite the educational environments in which they learn, live and work not being built with them in mind.

During her presentation, Nicolazzo discussed various theories and impacts within her work, such as the idea that gender is everywhere and nowhere; “normal femininity” and blackness; and how we have been lulled into the belief that we are “post-gender.”

“There’s a way that trans feminine bodies, particularly Black and Brown trans feminine bodies, are consumed by mass culture as if to suggest that we’ve arrived,” Nicolazzo said. 

There’s no one path. There’s no one timeline. There’s no one way to be trans.” -Z Nicolazzo, assistant professor of trans+ studies in education, co-chair of the Transgender Studies Research Cluster, University of Arizona

Nicolazzo mentioned actress and LGBTQ+ advocate Laverne Cox and actor and model Indya Moore, saying Cox is never referenced as just a woman but as a trans woman, no matter how feminine she looks.

“It’s only as they get closer to the idea of normal femininity that they become (seen or misunderstood),” Nicolazzo said.

During the question and answer portion of the presentation, Nicolazzo addressed an audience member who asked what fellow professors can do to be better allies for students if they only see them every once in a while. Nicolazzo said while professors may not see students very often, they have choices to see students on their terms. 

“Perhaps we need to think about the artifacts in our offices,” Nicolazzo said. “What’s in our offices? What’s on our walls? What are the books on our shelves? What are the pictures on our shelves, and how might that invite or disallow people from coming back to see us?” 

Maggie Hendrickson, assistant director of the Pride Resource Center, expressed why it was important that someone like Nicolazzo spoke on a campus like CSU.

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“I think there’s a lot happening politically and at a state level of Colorado and nationally that challenges the well-being of trans folks and the validity of different gender identities,” Hendrickson said. “For Colorado State to invest in the well-being of trans folks here is really important to send a message to the folks on this campus that we see you and that we want to commit to you having a future here, which is really powerful.”

For the students struggling with their identity or questioning their gender, Nicolazzo had a message.

“There’s no one path,” Nicolazzo said. “There’s no one timeline. There’s no one way to be trans. They don’t need to rush … They are always enough, regardless of whatever choice they make.”

Nicolazzo acknowledged trans activist CeCe McDonald during her speech.

“F*ck everyone, and love yourself,” said Nicolazzo, repeating McDonald’s words from a YouTube video of hers. 

Meagan Stackpool can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MeaganStackpool.