How registrars can make a difference for transgendered students

January 24, 2017
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • AACRAO Connect
  • gender

Dr. Wayne Maines, 58, still remembers his first interaction with a college registrar. It was 1988, he was an Air Force veteran enrolling in community college, and he had a lot of questions.


“She was so kind, helpful and friendly,” said Maines, who finished his associate’s degree at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, and went on to earn a B.S. from Cornell University, an M.S. from West Virginia University, and an Ed.D. from West Virginia University. “I never forgot her--and nine years later, I went back and thanked her for starting me off so well.”


Now Executive Director of Safety, Health Services, Transportation and Security for University of Maine System, Maines understands more than ever how important the registrar’s role is in higher education institutions’ relationships with students.


“The registrar’s office is often the first place a student goes,” Maines said. “Although things have changed technology-wise, the registrar’s office is still the ‘front line.’” And that role became front-and-center for Maines and his identical twin children as they navigated the college application process, because Maines’ daughter, Nicole, is transgender.


A historic victory

“People think they have an understanding of what it means to be transgendered, but most people don’t,” Maines said. “I had to live it for ten years to understand. These young people are the bravest and strongest people you’ll meet, but in many ways they’re also the weakest, because they may have not had support at home or in their communities.”


Nicole’s journey through middle and high school as a transgender child was not supported by her school administrators—she experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination—and in January 2014, Maine’s Supreme Court ruled that Nicole's rights had been violated under the state's Human Rights Act. That ruling marked a landmark victory for transgender rights in the U.S.: the first time a state’s highest court ruled that it is unlawful to deny transgender students access to the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. In the last few years, the Maines family has gained national prominence as activists for transgender causes.


Now a sophomore in college, Nicole will join her father at the AACRAO Annual Meeting to share their story.


“When I was asked to speak at the conference, I leapt at the chance,” Maines said. “Because your members meet with so many students and faculty and staff, and because they’re from all over the country, it’s really an opportunity to educate people about something that transgendered kids all across the country are experiencing.”


What registrars can do

Most transgender students have a negative experience with college at their first encounter: the college application. Something as simple as indicated housing preference can be antagonistic.


Right now in the U.S., four percent of college campuses have housing for transgender students. Of those, many have further restrictions, Maines said, sending students the message “you’re totally different from everyone else.” Registrars, recruitment officers, and administrators must all look at their existing policies and procedures to see how to ease that part of the process for students.


“We know we’re not going to change the world overnight,” Maines said. Transgender students may have a lot of anxiety and fear--they’ve just left home, and their name may not match their paperwork. They don’t know how people will receive them. But there is a simple way to signal to students that they are welcome. “One of the simplest things is asking ‘What’s your preferred name? What’s your preferred pronoun?’


“If you start with those questions, the student knows right away that you care,” Maines said. “You might not get everything right, but it sends a message that you’re willing to listen and you’re there to help.”


Wayne and Nicole Maines will speak at the Tuesday afternoon plenary session at the AACRAO Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Apr. 2-5, 2017. Learn more about the exciting speakers at this year’s meeting and register for the conference by March 3 for early bird rates.