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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Doris Andrea Dirks
Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Educational Leadership, Research, and Technology
Title: Transgender People on University Campuses: A Policy Discourse Analysis
Dr. Andrea Beach, Chair
Dr. James Croteau
Dr. Donna Talbot
Date: Monday, November 7, 2011 10:00 a.m. to Noon
3208 Sangren Hall
The goal of this study is to examine the language used to discuss transgender people on university campuses. My primary research question is: What do university reports describe as problems and solutions for transgender people in universities? The primary data for this study consists of 16 reports issued at four Big Ten schools from 2002-2009. These reports address the inclusion of gender identity and expression in university non-discrimination policies, the status of transgender people on university campuses, or both. This study employs policy discourse analysis, a hybrid methodology that analyzes written documents using feminist, critical, and poststructural theories in order to identify the subject positions generated through policy discourse. These reports should be viewed in the context of primary sources that illustrate a long history of LGBTQ civil rights battles. My aim is to understand how these reports framed discussions about transgender people, and what this, in turn, tells us about the reality produced by the reports.
The resulting study therefore reveals significant discrepancies between objectives sought, means used, and outcomes achieved. For example, a university’s report on the status of transgender people may use language depicting them as “disabled” or as “victims,” even as it strives to make the university more welcoming to transgender individuals. The predominant images of transgender people are those of vulnerable victims and supplicants to university policy and decision makers. The discourses used to shape these problems, solutions, and images are those of facilities, education/training, and support. The role of LGBT resource centers is central to the provision of services for transgender people and these centers form a significant part of the support discourse. The predominant disability discourse is one that presents itself as offering safety to transgender people through isolation and segregation – a solution that operates, among other things, to relieve cisgender people’s discomfort around gender variance through transgender “accommodation,” but at the cost of reinforcing the marginalization of transgender people. This study shows the need to reframe the discourse on university campuses about transgender people and offers concrete ideas about how to do so in order to make campuses truly gender friendly.