Transgender people at the University: Guidelines and FAQS

What is being transgender?

Being transgender (or “trans”) is the state of one’s gender identity not matching the one that was presumed at birth. A lot of transgender people refer to the sex that their doctors put on their birth certificates when they were born as their assigned sex at birth, or their designated sex at birth.

Cisgender people are people who feel like their gender has always matched their assigned sex at birth.

Being transgender can be described as being:

  • A person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these.
  • A person who was assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feels that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.
  • Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth.  

Why does this matter?

All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of how many there are. The Youth '12 report indicates that up to four percent of New Zealand youth may be transgender. Given the population of this university, that’s the substantial number of approximately 1600 people! 

Understanding equity groups, as explained in the University’s Equity Policy, is central to making this University as accessible and progressive as possible.

Also, while you might think you don’t know any trans or gender-diverse people, you probably do, through your friends and family, but they do not yet feel able to be themselves.

I think/know I am transgender and I am studying/working at the University of Auckland. What resources are there for me?

Great! Firstly, if you are new to questioning your gender, please don’t panic. Every trans person is different and has a different journey, and you are not coming to it later in life than everyone else or in a way nobody else ever has. Remember, there is an enormous amount of gender diversity and not every trans person fits neatly into the category of “man” or “woman”. Many of us feel like we are neither, or both, or that our gender changes! Not all of us pursue medical transition in the form of surgery or hormonal treatment, and not all of us are “out” in every facet of our lives. Regardless of which path you take, you deserve to be treated with dignity. Trans on Campus and the Equity Office can help you with matters relating to your involvement with the University, as well as providing a community to support you on your journey.

This web page and the work of Trans On Campus is all about trying to make the University a place where transgender people and other gender-diverse people can safely pursue higher education. Trans On Campus is a support network, social group and advocacy group for gender diverse students and staff. Email us at: transoncampus@auckland.ac.nz.

Also see the below section, “What administrative processes can a trans student follow to be safer?”

There are a number of resources here at the University:

  • Trans On Campus is a support network, social group and advocacy group for gender diverse students and staff. We have created this web page, and we warmly invite you to join our group or email us with any questions or concerns: transoncampus@auckland.ac.nz
  • The Equity Office Te Ara Tautika offers advice and assistance to students and staff. Visit the Equity Office website for contact details.
  • The Equity Office Te Ara Tautika also has web pages for LGBTQITakatāpui+ students, including information about financial support for legally changing your name, and the LGBTQITakatāpui+ Student and Staff Network. Visit Support for Rainbow students
  • The Equity Office Te Ara Tautika has web resources for staff, including guidelines on transitioning at work and on sport participation. Visit Support for trans and gender-diverse staff.

There is a resource list at the end of this document, and you may also want to read the section below “What administrative processes can a trans or gender-diverse student follow to be safer?”.

What administrative processes can a trans or gender-diverse student follow to be safer?

If and when you feel comfortable doing so, you may change your preferred names in the Identity Management System at iam.auckland.ac.nz/identity.  This change will instantly propagate through most University systems and be the name used when using Canvas.     

The University allows logging into web applications using your Student ID number, or an associated email address instead of your UPI. This can prevent students being outed by the discrepancy between the name people know them as and the initials used by the UPI.

You will also need to change their name on your University Google account using Google's "Manage your Google Account" feature at myaccount.google.com/. Additionally, names in Zoom and Piazza must be changed manually.

If they feel safe doing so, or if you wish to act on their behalf, they can contact their lecturers and tutors informing them of the University’s preferred name policy, and their preferred name and pronouns.

Report any mistreatment to the Equity Office.

The University of Auckland will cover the cost of legal name changes for trans and gender-diverse students who meet eligibility criteria as assessed by the Equity Office. Find out more on the page, Trans and gender-diverse students.

  • If a legal name change has been undertaken, the name in the university system can be changed using the Change of Name form (AS-66).

If you need to access a safer space on the City Campus, visit Queerspace in the Quad.  

What should I know about working with students I know to be trans or gender diverse?

Here is a quick and incomplete list of general tips! If you have specific questions relating to your area of expertise, or if you want to be sure your understanding is up to date, please contact Trans on Campus.

  1. Stick to the pronouns and name that the trans person has given you (and request them if they haven’t). Change your roll if that’s possible, or otherwise ensure the privacy of the trans person. (See the following sections for more information).
  2.  When creating class lists use the Student List from Canvas as those use preferred names automatically. This avoids using legal names which may lead to outing students. Many but not all of the University IT systems use the preferred names.
  3. Let them know that Trans on Campus exists, and if they’ve expressed specific concerns, the above section, “What administrative processes can a trans student follow to be safer?” may contain information that may assist them. 
  4. Stick to the name and pronoun requested if the trans person does not indicate that they prefer different names and pronouns in different situations, regardless how they are dressed. 
  5. Be aware that trans individuals, while included under the LGBTQITakatāpui+ umbrella, have slightly different needs from cisgender LGBTQITakatāpui+ people. 
  6. Help make others who will be in contact with the trans person aware of this web page. 
  7. Don’t ask invasive questions about genitalia, surgical procedures or similar. 
  8. Be prepared to have “low-key conversations” with people who make unwelcome comments or who treat a trans person unfairly. This may stop the situation escalating when some quick education and guidance can achieve a positive outcome for all. 
  9. Do not single out the trans person or let other people know even by allusion that they are trans. 
  10. Most importantly: If in doubt, ask the trans person (in a sensitive way) how they would like to see a situation dealt with!  

What should I do to make my classes/workspace safer spaces for trans and gender diverse people?

General guidelines

It is always safest to assume that you are interacting with trans or gender-diverse people.

Here are some pointers gathered from experiences with university staff:

  1. Never refer to trans people or any other equity group in a disparaging manner or make jokes involving (for example) sex changes. Never use transphobic or homophobic slurs or make jokes about (for example) effeminacy or other things which blur traditional gender norms.
  2. Do not react negatively to someone using a bathroom who does not appear to “belong” in that bathroom. Support any person who comes to you reporting transphobic abuse when using the bathroom they prefer.

For staff: Creating an inclusive learning environment for trans students 

Being a student can be stressful and busy even without the added complications of transitioning or questioning one's own self, which often takes a severe toll on mental and physical health. For many trans students, this is compounded by encountering everything from antipathy to outright violence from students and staff during their time at University. General ignorance and discomfort around transgender issues on campus exacerbates this problem. Our University is committed to being a safe and inclusive place to study and work. Read more information read the Equity Policy.

Especially in larger classes, the chances that there is at least one trans student are quite high; even if there isn’t, ensuring that your material is inclusive and non-discriminatory is central to educating a generation of graduates who will be the same.

  1. Wherever possible, do not use printed rolls (or worse, call names out loud). Often, trans students do not use the name that they had to register for university under, and may not have legally changed their names yet. One method used by many tutors which maintains the privacy of any transgender students or other students with complicated name situations is to pass around a blank piece of paper for students to write their preferred names and student ID numbers on, and to cross-check the latter against the roll later.
  2. In a similar manner, carefully consider how to run icebreakers, activities, whakawhanaungatanga practices, or examples in your classes that may expose or otherwise make trans students uncomfortable. This could include getting students to introduce each other in tutorials (this often leads to misgendering and awkward situations), don’t assume any person’s gender or pronouns, or asking the students to separate into binary gender groups all the men in your class to stand up for an example (which could create an unsafe space for both trans men and women). Also taking steps such as stating your own pronouns when introducing yourself can normalise others doing the same.
  3. When interacting with students in class, unless you are certain of their pronouns, attempt to use gender-neutral language and pronouns. 

Trans staff

Trans staff members may be at a different stage of their lives but coming out as trans may still be terrifying. The key thing is to allay any fears and allow them to be themselves. While the Trans on Campus group was founded primarily as a student initiative there are staff who are members and we are all facing the same challenges. A few relevant points to consider:

  1. If the person will be lecturing/teaching it is important to support them. If possible, consider how best to give them experience teaching smaller groups before putting them in front of a large stage 1 lecture.
  2. Make colleagues aware of the change but only with the consent and consideration of the trans person’s views. It is probably best for them to pass this on with your support rather than you taking preemptive action.  

Frequently asked questions on how everyone can support trans and gender-diverse people

Why is language important?

Many of the terms that have been used to refer to trans people were coined or claimed by groups who were hostile to trans people. Because of this, some of the terms you may know are loaded with a history of prejudice and abuse. Using the correct words shows that you are aware of, and sensitive to, trans issues.

What are the appropriate words?

“Trans” or “transgender”, both used as adjectives (that is: “a trans person” or “a transgender person” rather than “a transgender”), are generally the most acceptable terms. People may prefer certain specific words be used to describe them, in which case you should default to those. Other terms you might encounter include:

  • Fa’afafine, (Faka)leitī, Akava’ine, Mahū, Vaka sa lewa lewa, Rae rae, Fafafine. Pasifika identity terms used primarily by Pasifika peoples to describe an individual whose gender/sexual identity diversifies generally accepted norms of gender identity and/or sexuality. In some cultures, these identity terms are often used to refer to a "third gender". These identity terms are best understood within their cultural context. MVPFAFF+ is an acronym used to affirm and encourage the use of positive identity terms within Pasifika cultures. See www.pridenz.com/ait_apog_phylesha_brown_acton_keynote.html 
  • Whakawahine Māori term describing someone born with a male body who has a female gender identity.
  • Tangata ira tane Māori term describing someone born with a female body who has a male gender identity.

Why are pronouns important?

Pronouns are important because they not only form a big part of a person’s identity but their misuse can severely compromise a person’s safety. Deliberately using the wrong pronouns is showing a lack of respect for a person’s identity, although it is accepted that when a person is changing mistakes will be made.

What are common pronouns?

The most commonly used pronouns are ones that are already in common use: “he/his/him”, “she/her/her”, and “they/their/them”. There are other less common sets. The set which is correct to use is the set which the trans person has advised you to use.

Trans man and trans woman: which is which?

A trans man will usually prefer to be referred to by “he/him” pronouns, will want to be referred to as a man, and will want to present himself in a way seen socially as male. Trans men are generally assigned female at birth, and move away from this assignment. The opposite is true for trans women.

Although statistics are not widely available, trans men and trans women are approximately equally as common.

Does everyone fit into the categories of trans man and trans woman?

No. There are a lot of people who do not feel comfortable fitting into either category. Some feel that they are somewhere in between, some associate with neither, some consider themselves something else entirely, and some feel that their gender changes with time. There are several terms used by people who identify in this way such as nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, agender and many more.

What is “transitioning”?

Gender transition can be a lot of things, and only one thing is universal: everyone who transitions goes through a social change, which can involve some or all of a name change, change in pronouns, change in dress and other changes. Gender transition is not necessarily a surgical operation. Any and all medical aspects of transition are personal information, and are not a necessary part of transition.

Someone has told me that they’re transgender, but they look, dress and act the same as always. What’s going on?

Transition is a long, slow and difficult process. For personal, social and sometimes professional reasons a person may make changes in an unexpected order. For example, a trans person may come out to a number of individuals, but still not be open publicly about it, and as such may not be ready to use a new name or change the way they dress. Another person may change their name and come out publicly, but may not present in a way associated with their preferred gender for various reasons (including insecurity, concerns about safety, or disability). The appropriate way to deal with this is to quietly ask what that person prefers with regards to name and pronouns, and to accept that the way this person presents themselves may not conform to your expectations.

Someone has told me that they’re transgender. How can I support them?

The best way to support someone is to ask them what they need. Although they may not know what they need, and they may change over time as they gain more understanding. Referring them to a support network is often also a good idea. The University’s Trans On Campus is the major support network for people studying or working at the University of Auckland, and we are also more than happy to offer support to trans people who are not part of the University community. In addition, educating yourself about issues is important. You don’t need to be an expert, but reading information such as this web page is a good start.

For more information, support and advice, email: transoncampus@auckland.ac.nz

Other resources

  • Email Trans On Campus: transoncampus@auckland.ac.nz
  • Rainbow Youth.
  • If you need or want help dealing with the transition process or other issues, the University’s Health and Counselling Service offers free appointments with counsellors to currently enrolled students.
  • The University offers financial assistance for those students who are ready to change their name legally, covering the cost of a legal name change, a birth certificate, and a passport. Read the guidelines.
  • The University’s Equity Office also offers general assistance to students from all equity groups, specifically including transgender and gender-diverse students. Email director student equity Dr Terry O'Neill.
  • Many of the faculties in the University have rainbow networks. While they are not specifically targeted towards gender diverse people, they are accepting and safe environments and many of them have transgender members. See Faculty Rainbow contacts and groups.