An exploration into the meaning that trans* students attach to their experiences at a South African University

Master Thesis


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Universities are perceived as non-judgmental because of their tolerant environments and emphasis on producing well-rounded students. Despite transformative initiatives to create an inclusive culture, transgender and gender diverse students may still feel that they are treated unfairly due to stigmatisation or poorly implemented diversity policies. Studies have focused mainly on the gender binary practice of transgender individuals assimilating to cisnormativity. Yet, relatively little work has considered the implications of campus life where transgender students may experience discrimination because of gender-exclusive policies and practices (residence halls, bathrooms, public inclusion, training, and support). This study sought to address this gap. Data from a thematic analysis of qualitative semi-structured interviews were utilised to understand trans* students' perceptions and lived experiences at a South African university. Most of the participants revealed that a hostile climate for transgender students prevailed on campus and that the institution lacks resources and education on transgender issues. Findings reported three major themes: (1) Navigating the power of privilege and institutional systemic oppression; (2) Misalignment and invalidation of one's gender identity on campus; (3) The importance of understanding transgender health from a gender minority experience. Recommendations for creating greater inclusion for transgender students on university campuses are presented.