When it comes to big lessons, 2016 has been a year of education. In terms of my life, this has been no exception. It has been the first year that I have begun working as a full-time Higher Education professional, and it has been the year of finally putting my grad school theory into practice. That alone has been a rewarding challenge. However, it has also been an awakening to the idea that books cannot always prepare you for the raw human experience that comes with dealing with college students and the many identities they carry with them. When I think of the #OneGoodThing from this year, it was something that happened not to me but to a student staff member, whom we will call ‘Lance’ for privacy, who was brave enough to share who they were.
For some background, Lance is a transgender, male-presenting student and a first year Community Advocate (RA) at my institution. The minute they arrived at training, Lance’s experience began showing me the hard reality for trans individuals is across the nation. As a cis gender individual with many privileges, I learned about the difficulty of the name transition process when they were unwillingly outted to me by their hiring paperwork that still used their old name. I learned about the troubles of trying to get insurance to cooperate with hormone replacement therapy and having to convince strangers that your needs are actual needs. I learned about parents who claimed to love their child while also claiming to “mourn” the death of their identity. And finally, I learned about the pure anxiety students like Lance have to endure just by existing in the world.
It among these hard lessons, that I saw Lance’s true bravery. Towards the middle of the fall semester, Lance had already had many instances where they expressed anxiety to me that another staff member had found out about their identity. Feeling tired of being scared, they had come out to their duty partner, and after it went well, they felt emboldened to tell others but unsure of how to do it. After a lengthy discussions, I decided to offer staff meeting time to Lance as a possible space. We chose a day, and I chose a back-up plan in case Lance decided they weren’t ready, and we talked through what the conversation would look like. Like with all students, I couldn’t guarantee them complete safety, but I could guarantee them space and my own support.
On Lance’s big day, they stayed resolute in their plan to talk to the other CAs. They began very nervously, but as they went on, I saw a light come on in their eyes. I saw a recognition that it was possible that this group of individuals could accept them without hesitation. I knew this would be the likely outcome based on how stellar my staff is, but Lance had never truly experienced it before. At the end of the staff time, many staff members wrote Lance supporting notes, and I have never seen so much joy on anyone’s face. It was joy of being able to exist in a space without fear of harm of retribution. It was a joy of being able to be unapologetically who you are. It was a joy not allotted to every trans student, but I hope one day will be.
My experience with ‘Lance’ was an experience that theory can never teach, and it was a moment this year that gave me optimism for a better future. When Lance looks back at 2016, I hope that they remember this moment like I do. Since this instance, they have blossomed and become a million times more comfortable with the staff and their own residents. It should be noted that this experience stemmed from their bravery. I hope that the CAs also look back and remember what a gift Lance gave them that year by sharing something as precious as their identity. For me, I will look back and remember the student that taught me lessons they never should have had to teach. As with Lance, I will never truly know every experience of each student I meet, but I will remember to always offer space and support.
This post is part of our #OneGoodThing series for December. Given the numerous troubling things we have experienced together during the year of 2016, and all of the disagreement, we wanted to prove that 2016 wasn’t all bad. We will hear from #SApros about a memory, experience, or moment that was GOOD that happened to them in 2016. For more info, please see Doug’s intro post. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series too!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dave Kerpen on Authenticity/ Branding on Social Media