On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workplace discrimination law protects employees who are gay or transgender. Now another piece of the evolving LGBTQ equality movement will begin at Southern Oregon University.
Next fall, the nation’s first transgender studies certificate will be offered at SOU.
Around 1.4 million U.S. adults identify as transgender, according to UCLA's Williams Institute. In California and Oregon residents can have the name on their birth certificate and driver's license changed to match their gender identity.
For reasons like these, Dr. Kylan Mattias de Vries, an associate professor and chair of SOU’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies department decided to create a program specifically focused on transgender issues.
“Increasingly, we know that we need to address people who are gender-expansive, transgender, there’s lots of different language, non-binary,” de Vries said. “We know that we increasingly have a number of youth who are identifying in that way, which means that we need more people to understand what that means in daily life.”
The new transgender studies certificate will start at SOU next fall. While other universities around the country offer classes on trans issues, usually within larger LGBTQ programs, de Vries said he thinks this is the first program dedicated to those issues in the U.S.
The certificate will require 28 credits, more than getting a minor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, and less than majoring in the department. The certificate will include courses like “Trans Histories, Trans Futures” and “Trans Health Care.”
De Vries and his other faculty member Dr. Carey Jean Sojka are sociologists. While the program is rooted in the social sciences, de Vries said they designed it to build skills in professional settings.
“We are sort of thinking about: can workers go into their careers and talk about how to apply what they learned about trans studies in their particular work environment? And the ways that they can bring that knowledge into their daily life and how they interact with folks,” he said.
The largest groups of people identifying as transgender are those in their teens and twenties, according to the Williams Institute. De Vries said having a background in trans issues could be relevant for many fields, like educators or people who work in juvenile justice.
“If more and more youth are identifying as trans or non-binary it’s going to be really important for not just educators but people who are working in schools for example. In the medical profession, not just nurses or doctors but the front staff people,” he said. “So, could you talk about having this particular certificate and how that’s going to create an advantage for your employer in understanding more diverse populations.”
While it might seem surprising that the first transgender studies program will debut at a small, regional university, in an otherwise rural part of Oregon, de Vries points out SOU regularly ranks high on the Campus Pride Index, a national ranking of LGBTQ-friendly campuses.
He also said this program could raise more awareness for those who haven’t considered the university.
“We do hope that having this certificate might draw people who might not usually come to SOU.”