Gender diversity support group, Gender Agenda, is supporting the LGBTIQ+ community at Swinburne.
Starting in 2017, the group started in response to several transgender and non-binary students who were finding their university experience difficult.
“I expressed my struggles as a transgender student at uni a number of times and at some point we all just decided to try and make things easier for trans and gender diverse students,” says Bachelor of Arts student Jodie Hawke.
With the support of Swinburne staff Dr Julia Prendergast and Dr Deanne Fisher, students who identify as transgender and gender diverse meet monthly to identify ways that faculty and university staff can facilitate support.
“It's been really beautiful to see students come out of their shell and come to events or even get involved in the creation of them. Personally, I just want to try and make our lives easier, and provide a space to vent about and explain – to those who might not understand - the challenges when we can't fix them,” says Jodie.
Gender Agenda was the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Inclusion and Diversity Award in 2019.
“Even for staff with the best intentions, we might use someone’s legal name instead of their preferred name and for some students that can be really traumatic. Particularly for students who might be undergoing transition and who are already perhaps suffering from mental health issues.”
The group has an innovative structure that could be used for other special needs groups. Discussion is initiated by students, and actioned by the faculty members. Professional staff are then contacted to determine the best way to navigate administrative issues.
“It’s really important to me that students feel heard regardless of whether we share their life situation. Empathy is a huge part of how we do our work well,” says Dr Prendergast.
“The inspiring thing is that it can be changed and if you put in the effort and the work, you can find the right people who are excited to help you try to make the university a better place,” says Dr Fisher
LGBTIQ+ support at Swinburne
The Gender Agenda group is just one of the support options available to students and staff at Swinburne.
The Swinburne Ally Network is composed of LGBTIQ+ identifying and non-identifying staff and students who champion inclusion at Swinburne. The group contributes to the design and implementation of the Swinburne’s LGBTIQ+ inclusion programs and organises events and learning sessions that raise awareness of LGBTIQ+ issues.
The Swinburne Queer Collective provides a safe space for LGBTIQ+ students to meet on campus and hosts events throughout the year to support the Swinburne queer community.