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Transgender Employees and Overcoming Barriers to Employment

transgender pride flag
Transgender Pride Flag

“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do or achieve. Do what you want to do and be who you want to be. Just encourage and include each other, don’t ostracize the gender in front of you.”  
― Emma Watson 

Just over a year ago, Caitlyn Jenner graced the headlines with the simple proclamation: "I am Cait." Since then, North Carolina proposed and passed HB2, forcing transgender people to use the gendered bathroom aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth instead of the one they identify as now. The Department of Education released the Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students, specifically those in K-12 schools, outlining institutionsresponsibilities under Title IX. Several states (spearheaded by Texas and including Wisconsin) are challenging the DOE's guidance and refusing to follow it. So, what does any of this have to do with our work? 

Everything. And, here's why. 

Transgender people are simply people who identify and live as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth. Some trans people go through a complete medical and legal transition, continuing their life as stealth with no one ever knowing they were born another gender. Some trans people don't legally or medically transition at all, either because they don't desire to do so or they cannot for various other reasons. And trans folk are everywhere else in that spectrum.  

Looking around the UW Systems, one of my first questions was "were are all of the trans folk?"  Honestly, if the problem was that UW refused to hire trans people, the solution would be simple: Hire trans people. Obviously, that's not the case (go us!), and the problem is much more complicated than that.  

Some, or most, trans people face barriers that their cisgender counterparts don't, even when we consider the intersections of other social identities, such as age, race/ethnicity, class, etc. Cisgender simply refers to people who still identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. These barriers make it harder for trans people to survive, earn a degree, and land a job. So what are these barriers? 

Individual trans people can tell you their own experiences and share the commonalities within their own community, if they have one at all. Some trans folk don't. The results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey were released in 2011 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, with the next survey's results to be released later this year. This survey found (or rather confirmed) that trans people experience discrimination, harassment, and violence in almost every aspect of their lives and usually at rates much higher than their cisgender counterparts. Below are some key findings, and you can find the link to the full report in the references section:  


  • Those who expressed a transgender identity while in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15%) to leave school or college.  


  • Survey respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population at the time of the survey, with rates for Black transgender people being four times the national rate, and other trans people of color at elevated rates. 


  • Ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it. 

  • Over one-quarter (26%) reported that they had lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming and 50% were harassed. 

  • Sixteen percent (16%) said they had to work in the underground economy for income such as doing sex work or selling drugs. 

  • The vast majority (78%) of those who transitioned from one gender to the other reported that they felt more comfortable at work and their job performance improved, despite high levels of mistreatment. 


  • A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population. 


  • Of those who have transitioned gender, only one-fifth (21%) have been able to update all of their IDs and records with their new gender. 

  • Forty percent (40%) of those who presented ID (when it was required in the ordinary course of life) that did not match their gender identity/expression reported being harassed, 3% reported being attacked or assaulted, and 15% reported being asked to leave. 


  • Nineteen percent (19%) of the sample reported being refused medical care due to their transgender status, with even higher numbers among people of color in the survey. 

Many of these aspects of life feed into each other. Not graduating high school or college reduces opportunities for success in the workplace. Being refused medical care, even for non-transitional medical purposes such as injuries and illness, can affect one's ability to go to school, work, or hold a job. Not being able to update all of one's legal documentation can out a trans person and cause further discrimination in the interviewing and employment process. So on and so forth.  

Now that we know some of the barriers, what can we do to eliminate them?  

Individual Level: 

  • Get into the practice of asking every one their pronouns when you first meet them. Include your personal pronouns on your email signature, on your nametags, in meeting introductions, on your business cards, and on/under your office name plate. If you need more practice with using pronouns, visit sites such as to review 

  • Learn about the trans experience by doing your own research. Start with a Google search and expand from there. Keep in mind that the trans experience is not monolithic, meaning that no all trans people experience the same things. Seek out diverse representations 

  • Listen to your transgender students and colleagues when they reach out to you, and affirm their experiences instead of debating them. Provide them with resources and be an advocate for them on our campuses. 

  • You should alert security or police about suspicious behavior (peering over/in stalls, exposing self) in any facility, including restrooms, but trans people existing in those spaces is not suspicious behavior.  

  • Reflect on conscious and unconscious biases around gender and gender identity. Give yourself room, grace, and compassion to grow. We cannot control the environments we were raised in, but we can control our thoughts and the behaviors we have now. 

Office/Department Level: 

  • Take initiative to ensure that everyone in the office is asking for pronouns, including them in emails, etc. Consider having professional development around gender and gender identity if members of the office are not familiar with this and do not have a grasp on why this is important yet.  

  • Enforce policies against bullying, harassment, and violence (especially Title IX) in our work, living, and learning spaces. Have zero tolerance for slurs, misgendering, misnaming, and general verbal/physically harassment. Support survivors/victims of these and enforce sanctions against perpetrators.   

Institution Level:  

  • Review our hiring and employment processes to ensure that transgender folk can use their name even if it is not their legal name throughout the entire process. Be transparent about where and when legal names must be used, and ensure that the fewest number of eyes possible has to see a legal name. This prevents outing that trans person. 

  • Review any forms or surveys that ask for demographic information. Consider whether you need to know sex (Female, Intersex, Male) or gender (Man, Woman, Transman, Transwoman, Non-binary/Genderqueer, Agender, Other), or if either are needed at all. Make sure these options are inclusive of diverse identities.  

  • Keep retention and graduation rates for transgender people, showing a commitment to them by counting them across the institution 

  • Review our benefits package and create a resource around transition-related health and medical care, including which services are and are not included in plans, trans-friendly doctors and facilities, and community resources.  

  • Review our financial aid services to ensure we can provide options to trans students who no longer have financial support from their families.  

  • Review restroom facilities in all buildings to ensure there are gender neutral or family facilities in every building. Build a map of these, and distribute it in various places.  


“If anyone makes you feel less than you are, for the color of you skin, for where you come from, for the gender of the person you love, for the religion you have faith in, stand up, speak up, roar. No silence till we are equal.”  
― Thisuri WanniarachchiCOLOMBO STREETS 


Starting Places to Learn More: 



SAT Race Gap Widens

Hand filling out a multiple choice test
Creative commons image via Resized.

A new analysis of over 1.1 million applicants to the University of California system demonstrates that race matters when it comes to the SAT. The study used data from California residents who applied to UC schools between 1994 and 2011 to isolate factors known to contribute to SAT scores such as race, parental education, and socioeconomic status. Strikingly, race was a better predictor than either socioeconomic status or parental education levels, and the three factors together predicted a large and growing discrepancy of scores, accounting for 25% of the variation between otherwise similar candidates in 1994 and 35% in 2011.

Saul Geiser, the study’s author, cautions that despite the large sample size, the study focused on California, and more research will be needed to determine whether results apply nationally. He also acknowledges that interpretation of the study may be shaded by preexisting political leanings: “To both critics and supporters of affirmative action alike, the University of California’s experience is a morality tale. For critics of affirmative action, it demonstrates what can be done . . . to expand minority enrollment by race-neutral means. For supporters, it illustrates not only the dire consequences of eliminating affirmative action but also the impossibility for American colleges and universities to keep pace with the growing diversity of the nation without taking account of race.” (Geiser, 2015, p. 2)

To read more, see “SAT’s Racial Impact” in Inside Higher Ed or read the full study, “The Growing Correlation Between Race and SAT Scores: New Findings from California.”

Businesses Reflect on Social Mobility in Madison

The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison
The Wisconsin Stat Capitol in Madison. Image by Ryan Wick via WikiMedia Commons.

“If not Madison now, then where and when?” Such is the question that economist and political theorist Richard V. Reeves intends to put before the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, will be addressing the Chamber of Commerce on social mobility and income inequality.

In an interview with The Cap Times, Reeves posits that the Madison community has some unique opportunities and challenges with regard to social mobility. On the one side, Madison is more economically segregated than similarly situated midsized cities and struggles with racial equity. However, Madison benefits from a healthy economy and citizens who are by and large interested in addressing issues of inequity. Reeves argues that the stage is set for businesses to make a positive impact on equity and social mobility.

For more information, see “The Business Case for Social Mobility in Madison” in The Cap Times.

Writer's Experience Demonstrates Gender Bias in Publishing Industry

Writing in a notebook.
Creative commons image via Resized.

Catherine Nichols had received around 50 rejections for the first few pages of her new manuscript when, frustrated, she sent it out to six new agents under the name “George Leyer.” Three of the six immediately replied with a request for more information. After sending out 50 more inquiries, Nichols noticed a pattern: she received eight times more positive responses by using the male pseudonym than by using her own name.

Nichols documents her experience in the recent Jezebel piece “Homme de Plume,” which has put additional pressure on a publishing industry already criticized for gender bias. While women are well represented within the publishing industry, prestigious award lists are often dominated by men. Nichols experience suggests that the industry’s problem may come much earlier in the pipeline than at the awards’ boards. Women writers may be published less often than male authors, which may lead them to drop out of the field.  

Nichols’ personal experience mirrors the results of numerous studies, which show that identical work profiles with masculine versus feminine names are subject to bias in teaching evaluations and in the classroom.

Deaf Advocacy Group Sues Harvard and MIT for Discrimination

Closed captions.
Closed captions on video content. Creative commons image via Resized.

Earlier this year, the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) filed class action law suits against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), arguing that their online video content lacked the captions necessary to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Harvard and MIT both publish extensive video content, much of it open to the public. Videos include course content associated with massive open online courses (MOOCs), lectures by distinguished speakers, and other educational materials.

NAD charges that the vast majority of the videos released by Harvard and MIT lack the closed captions necessary to make them accessible to deaf and hearing impaired people. Thousands of videos lack closed captions, and additional videos contain erroneous or inadequate captions, making them inaccessible to millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans who rely on these accommodations.

NAD representatives hope that a positive case outcome will influence many more colleges and universities to check their video content for appropriate captions, as mandated by the ADA. For more information, see

UW Colleges' Lisa Hager on Planning Trans-Inclusive Conferences

All Gender Accessible Bathroom Sign
All-Gender Accessible Bathroom Sign via

Lisa Hager’s essay in Inside Higher Ed, “Welcoming Trans Academics,” provides simple, actionable steps to take to make academic conferences more inclusive for transgender participants. Hager, an Assistant Professor of English at UW-Waukesha, suggests items related to conference content, such as seeking papers and presentations about trans or non-binary gender identities, as well as logistical items, such as designating gender-neutral bathroom for use over the course of the event.

Transgender people face discrimination and harassment on a daily basis. By considering their workplace needs, we take steps toward creating more welcoming, inclusive environments for all. To read Lisa Hager’s full essay, see “Welcoming Trans Academics.”

In the News: "Race for Results" Highlights Racial Disparities in Wisconsin

Six preschool students stand in a line.
Photo via

Black children in Wisconsin face major disadvantages, according to last month’s “Race for Results” report. This report featured the sobering local results of the national “Kids Count” data, which ranked child well-being by race for all 50 states. Outcomes of black children, teenagers, and young adults in Wisconsin were ranked lowest in the nation on four well-being measures: delayed childbearing, school or work success, living in two-parent families, and earning an Associate’s Degree or higher by age 29.

While the ranking of Wisconsin’s black children compared to those in other states is alarming, comparing these children to their white peers within the state only increases the cause for concern. White children and young adults across Wisconsin enjoy some of the highest success rates in school and at work (white children in Wisconsin, for example, come first in the country for high school graduation rates), highlighting glaring racial disparities.

While Wisconsin’s Latino and Native American children also underperform white children, the disparities are not as stark as those between black and white children.

For more information, see The Cap Times’ “Damning disparities: Wisconsin is a great place for kids to grow up – unless they’re black.”

UW-Marathon County Recognized for Contributions to Diversity and Inclusion

UW-Marathon County's mascot, the husky

UW-Marathon County has been awarded the 2014 Program Achievement Award for their outstanding contributions toward creating a more diverse and inclusive campus climate. The Program Achievement Award, sponsored by OSER’s Wisconsin State Council on Affirmative Action (SCAA), recognizes “exceptional efforts” in recruiting and retaining diverse students, faculty, and staff. The SCAA applauds Marathon County for “its initiative to create a safe gathering place for students, develop co-curricular programs that increase awareness of campus diversity and multicultural issues, advocate for policies and practices that create an inclusive campus climate and assist the campus in reducing barriers to higher education for underrepresented student populations.”

Representatives from UW-Marathon County will be honored at an awards ceremony at the state Capitol on Thursday, October 23.

In the News: Foundational Study on Education Inequity Wraps Up

Children color in an elementary school classroom.
Image via

In 1982, when Johns Hopkins sociologists Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle visited a first grade classroom in Baltimore, they were planning to collect data about how children adjust to their first year of school. Then they decided to extend their sampling period. Then they extended it again. Their study ended up running for twenty-five years and producing results that have changed the way we think about education and inequity.

In their longitudinal study of 790 subjects, Alexander and Entwisle found that social and socioeconomic signifiers like education, class, family status, and incarceration rate were persistent through generations. Middle-class parents were likely to “pass down” this status to their offspring, while children from low-income households were likely to stay there. Less than 11% of the first graders whom Alexander and Entwisle classified as “urban disadvantaged” escaped low-income status by age 28 while fewer still completed a college degree (4% of the disadvantaged group). Similarly, subjects who came from unstable homes were likely raise their own children in unstable environments.

Alexander and Entwisle’s work has informed a generation of researchers working on education inequality. To read more about their study, which officially closed earlier this year, see the Washington Post article, “What your 1st-grade life says about the rest of it.”

In the News: #WhyIStayed Gives Voice to Victims of Domestic Abuse

Twiiter feed.
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Women are increasingly turning to social media platforms like Twitter to respond to current events, voice their opinions, and connect with a community of likeminded peers. #WhyIStayed is the latest entry in what some are calling hashtag feminism.

#WhyIStayed started with one woman, Beverly Gooden, responding to the fallout of the Ray Rice scandal. After videos of Rice physically abusing his girlfriend (now wife) surfaced, some pundits and speculators questioned the victim’s motives: If the situation was so bad, why did she stay?

Gooden used the hashtag #WhyIStayed to raise awareness about domestic abuse and share the complicated reasons why she stayed in an abusive relationship with her now ex-husband, reasons such as “I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce.” Gooden’s honest, vulnerable responses went viral, inspiring other victims of domestic abuse to share #WhyIStayed.

#WhyIStayed, #YesAllWomen, #EveryDaySexism, and other social media conversations empower women who have been ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media.

Read more at in the Time Magazine article “Behold the Power of #Hashtag Feminism.”