Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses – Scenario Five

The following is an excerpt from the handout Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses, included in Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Foundational Training for Students. The guide is a facilitator’s guide for use with post-secondary students and the scenarios offer suggestions on how to respond to students who are overwhelmed and feeling distressed. 

These scenarios can be used as starting points for discussions and continued thought about how we can respond with empathy to students while recognizing and honouring their strengths and capacity to achieve balance. We will be reprinting one new scenario every month on our blog.

Scenario Five:

Transgender student who needs support with a culturally unsafe instructor

Alexa, a transgender student, approaches you after a LGBTQ2S+ meetup on campus. She tells you that one of her instructors refuses to call her by her name, stating that “preferred names” are optional as per school policy. Occasionally, the instructor will use Alexa’s name, but will self-edit it; for example, calling her “Alex” instead of “Alexa.” The student feels disrespected and humiliated by her instructor during class, so if she does attend class she sits in the back and doesn’t participate very much. She explains to you that she needs to do well in the course so she can get into the program she wants. She expresses feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and frustration during this interaction.

Key points

  • Listen empathetically and support the student while recognizing her capacity.
  • Validate her experience and recognize that you do not personally know this experience (if appropriate).
  • Acknowledge the student’s strength and resilience and remind her that she is valued.
  • Offer to help connect her with campus and community resources, such as counselling services and advocacy groups that can support her (e.g., the student union or other advocacy services on campus or in the community).

Possible responses

Thank you for sharing your story with me. I’m sorry this happened to you. It must be so frustrating for your instructor to not understand trans reality. I can appreciate how your instructor’s behaviour is impacting your well-being. You are valued, and there are many people and services that can support you through this. How can I help? I hear that you’re feeling sad and hopeless, and I’m concerned. Would you like to talk to a counsellor on campus? Counselling is confidential and free for students. I can walk with you to counselling services if you like, or I can give you their location and contact information.

Another option is I could help you connect with the pride centre. They have free short-term counselling as well as sliding-scale or low-cost long-term counselling services. I can also give you the online crisis resources so you can access them if and when you’re ready. Is that okay with you?

If you like, we can also speak to the student union on campus to discuss mediation if you want to talk to the instructor or the director of the department about this. I can walk with you to the student union, or I can give you their location and contact information. I can also be present to support you throughout this process as well.

Unhelpful responses

  • I understand what you are going through. You can wear dresses if you want.
  • I’m sure the instructor was not intentionally trying to misgender you. Maybe they didn’t know. Did you tell your instructor you are transgender?
  • Have you considered looking more feminine? Perhaps wear makeup, long hair, or dresses so you look less ambiguous.
  • Are you sure you are transgender? Maybe you are gay instead.

Resources for Supporting LGBTQ2S+ Students

When speaking to a transgender student, use the name of the student:

• Say “What is your name?”
• Do not say “What is your preferred name?”
• If it is necessary to determine the student’s name in the registry, say “What is your legal name?”

Use a transgender or non-binary student’s appropriate pronoun:

• Say “What are your pronouns?”
• Do not say “What are your preferred pronouns?”

Online Resources

Here are some helpful online LGBTQ2S+ resources on language:

This handout is licensed under a Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Foundational Training for Students International license (CC BY 4.0 license). © Arica Hsu (CC BY 4.0 license) 

“Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Foundational Training for Students” includes a facilitator’s guide with handouts and a PowerPoint presentation. This adaptable training resource covers foundational mental health and wellness information for post-secondary students and ways to respond to peers who are experiencing distress. It can be used for a two-to three-hour synchronous training session or for self-study. 

Learn more:

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Hilary Halliwell on Pexels