The importance of a safe space

How Ferris is providing a safe home for transgender and genderfluid students

Disclaimer: Due to the nature of this
story, the names of those interviewed have been redacted for their privacy and safety.

With summer break around the corner, some Ferris students will soon go back into the “closet” with their gender identity.

With a dedicated liberation dorm hall for queer students, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center and name and pronoun-changing options for students, Ferris accommodates many students that identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.

For a lot of students, living on campus is a new start. This is due to all the new faces and because, for most college students, this will be the first time they get to experience living on their own. Transgender and genderfluid students find a lot of comfort in this, as it means they can be completely themselves and surround themselves with people who love them for who they are.

The campus life environment can also mean safety for transgender and genderfluid students who may not have the space back home to be open about their gender identity. After surveying nearly 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth from ages 13-24 in the US, The Trevor Project found that only one in three of those surveyed found their home to be an accepting environment.

For Student A, being on campus meant that she could be open about her identity as a male-to-female transgender woman. She came out to her friend group and some select professors. She has been met with a lot of acceptance since deciding to be more open about her gender identity while attending Ferris.

“When I came to college, I decided to take my stand,” Student A said. “I want to be who I am. I want to go by my name and pronouns.”

The first step she took to achieve this was introducing herself to the band that she plays in on campus with her preferred name and letting them know her preferred pronouns. She received a lot of positive support from those in the band, which encouraged her to reach out to her RA.

“I told her, ‘This is my preferred name, but my family doesn’t like it,’” Student A said. “She has been super nice, and she gave me two sets of name cards.”

The two sets of name cards allow Student A to switch them out when her family visits. This gave her the opportunity to begin feeling like herself.

Student A hopes that her time at Ferris will help her build a stable environment for when she does decide to have another conversation with her parents about her gender identity, since the first and second conversation attempts did not go well.

“I love you, but you’ll always be my son,” is what her dad said when she tried to come out originally. She was then told by her father that she was confused and that she didn’t feel this way, it was just other people telling her she did.

Even here on campus, Student A feels the need to hide in certain classes to avoid negative encounters with students and professors who may not take her identity seriously. However, overall she feels more support here than in her hometown.

“I feel like I’m more myself,” Student A said. “I am a lot less anxious.”

While Student A maintains a relationship with her parents, who have yet to fully accept her gender identity, some students are taking the opportunity to cut contact with those who are not supporting them. This is the case with Student B, who is a transgender, masculine, nonbinary person who uses both he/him and they/them pronouns. Since coming to Ferris, he was able to cut off contact with his unsupportive father. His mom, on the other hand, has been one of his biggest allies. Since his parents are divorced, he has been able to make his at-home life a lot better.

“We had a pretty big fight the day I moved into Ferris,” Student B said, describing the day he decided to have no contact with his father. “It just became the kind of thing I couldn’t talk about anymore, so I just stopped responding to the conversation.”

According to Student B, fights like this were common between him and his father. He always got the impression that nothing was good enough if it wasn’t what his father wanted for him.

“I felt like I could break that contact with him in a safe way so he wouldn’t be able to fight me on it,” Student B said. “Before, he knew exactly where I lived, and he knew where all my friends lived. But now he knows I’m on campus, but I don’t even think he knows what dorm I live in.”

Now, he has been able to fully live his life and be his true, honest self. He was able to change his name through the school and Canvas, and he is very thankful that the process was fairly easy.

This is not to say that campus life hasn’t had its flaws when it comes to supporting transgender and genderfluid students.

“I had a teacher use air quotes while saying the word male in my direction,” Student B said. “It’s never been anything specific enough for it to feel like an actual attack, but it feels aggressive enough that it does affect my relationship with the professor.”

With the incident that happened with Student B, it’s clear that while Ferris is full of mostly accepting staff, this may not be true for them all.

Overall, Ferris has been a safe outlet for students to get away from their home lives and be their true selves.