Panellists discuss ways to transform higher education to include gender diverse people. Picture: Supplied
Panellists discuss ways to transform higher education to include gender diverse people. Picture: Supplied

National conference questions gender and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in higher education sector

By Rafieka Williams Time of article published Nov 23, 2021

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Cape Town - The national conference on trans and gender diversity inclusion in higher education took place over the weekend, coinciding with the transgender day of remembrance.

The conference emphasised the lived realities of LGBTQIA+ students in higher education and was convened out of a need to foster curriculum transformation in South Africa when dealing with LGBTQIA+ communities.

Highlights from the conference included discussions on mechanisms for transformation in the higher education sector, deconstructing gender, identity and expression in education and what’s in the best interest of the trans and gender-diverse child?

Khanyisile Phillips, programme director for Gender Dynamix, said: “We’re hoping to not only get the buy-in from the Department of Basic and Higher education but to draft a position statement that would hold these departments accountable for the lack of inclusive policies for trans and gender diverse students, which has a direct impact on their psychosocial and physical well-being.”

“It’s vital to have transformation in the higher education sector towards trans and gender diverse inclusivity to provide the student a chance at a fair educational experience,” said Phillips.

Professor Lionel Green Thompson, dean of the faculty of health sciences at UCT, said:“Part of the general fabric of higher education institutions is that we struggle with inclusion; we’re constantly trying to make ourselves more inclusive but I also think we need to build our sensitivity to those who feel excluded.”

Green Thompson said that there is profound vulnerability in the LGBTQIA+ community that is often overlooked and that those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are systematically excluded by bureaucratic processes.

Dominique Alley, a student who identifies as a lesbian, said that her experience has shown that there is still much work to be done in educating people about the LGBTQIA+ community.

“The educational system does not offer any information and education on the queer community. I had no education on what LGBTQIA+ was, schools only offer education on heterosexual relationships and what they entail.

“The system should be changed to help queer students learn about the community and to understand themselves better and also teach others about what ’queer’ is,” said Alley. “It is necessary to make the people in the community know that they are seen and that they are cared about.”

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