By Katlyn Kritz
Megan List said being the only openly transgender professor at Youngstown State University is “weird.”
List said she’s always been open about her gender identity.
“To me, my gender identity is just who I am. It doesn’t make me any different than anyone else on campus,” List said. “It’s also neat that since I’ve come out a lot students have come forward and I’ve been able to help them navigate life at YSU.”
List said this generation is increasingly more accepting of LGBT and other diverse groups, but there will always be exceptions. LGBT diversity isn’t talked about frequently in the classroom, she said.
“Every semester that I bring up LGBT topics, I have students who are mad about it,” List said. “As a whole … today’s youth is more supportive, but there are still individuals who are homophobic, transphobic, [etc]. I don’t think we’re ever fully going to get rid of that.”
There are laws that encourage diversity; however, Title IX says that no one should be excluded from participation, denied benefits or be subject to discrimination under any educational programs on the basis of sex.
“YSU is looking at adjusting some of their policies to be more trans friendly,” List said. “In the last 15 to 20 years there has been a lot of changes to culture and society that allow LGBT [people] to exist a little easier.”
YSU has been working towards bringing in more diversity by hiring more diverse faculty and making the campus more accommodating for transgender people.
“Diversity is an interesting thing to me,” List said. “A lot of people see diversity just as race and economics.”
She said “The Breakfast Club” is the film she tells students to watch when asked about diversity. Even though the students are white teens, they all discover new parts of diversity other than race and economics.
“There are LGBT faculty on campus, they’re just not as loud as me,” List said. “Part of that is it’s just who they are.”
Students find diversity in the faculty important as well. Carissa Brennan, YSUnity president, said she loves how inclusive YSU is becoming.
“It’s so important we have trans professors,” Brennan said. “It’s important for all students to be able to connect with their professors.”
She said it is important for transgender students to have someone to look up to.
“[Transgender students] need someone to talk to if they’re facing issues,” Brennan said. “It’s important for students to feel safe.”
Brennan said this is the purpose behind YSUnity. It provides a safe space for all students, no matter what orientation they follow.
Kayden Somlitz, a freshman in special education, is a transgender student. He said the transgender community lacks representation and it’s nice to know there is someone on campus he can relate to.
“Representation is essential to acceptance,” Somlitz said. “We’re a large community and we’re just like anyone else.”
He said that he’s had trouble in the past before his name was legally changed.
“I had to explain to each of my professors my situation,” Somlitz said. “Many of them just chose not to use my name or pronouns.”
List said her best possible advice to not only transgender students, but all students, is to be true to themselves.
“Be you and be safe. That’s all you can do,” List said. “Make sure you’re doing everything you can to be safe, and that includes being aware of what’s going on around you, what’s going on at parties, all of that kind of stuff.”
YSUnity meets Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Pollock Room in Kilcawley Center.