TEK’s Student Affairs Specialist Jeremi Nyyssönen put together five methods for supporting fellow students who belong to gender and sexual minorities.
Ask and be aware of your assumptions
We all make assumptions. We cannot help it. It is wise to be aware of this fact. Do not assume your fellow student's gender or sexual orientation but ask them about it. That is the easiest way.
When you pose the question, read the situation: where are you, how many people are present, how are you wording the question? Usually, it is best to present this question in private. If your friend does not want to answer or discuss the topic, do not press them. Everyone has the right to define or not define themselves.
You should also remember that Google exists – you can educate yourself in rainbow matters, it is not your friend’s responsibility.
Intervene when you see inappropriate behaviour
The threshold for intervening with someone's speech is high. I can well understand how one might not always dare or notice to do it. However, if you notice inappropriate behaviour or crass language at a student event or student space, make a point of it. Do not make people feel guilty. The person might simply be ignorant and mistaken.
Attitudes and behaviours do not change overnight. But if no-one intervenes or says anything about the person’s behaviour needing an adjustment, they might not even know that they are in the wrong.
If intervening yourself seems too daunting, you could also turn to your equality delegate or harassment contact person, for example. If your association does not have one, your student union is at least bound to have one.
Google exists – you can educate yourself in rainbow matters, it is not your friend’s responsibility.
If someone tells you they belong to a gender or sexual minority, listen. By telling you, your friend has demonstrated their trust in you. Keep the matter to yourself and do not spread the word.
Dare to challenge the way you think
It takes courage to face up to one's own prejudices. People come from vastly different backgrounds, they have been brought up differently and their childhoods gave rise to different thought patterns. Be open to difference, prepared to alter your own thinking and curious about learning something new.
Challenge unnecessary gender norms
Unfortunately, certain unnecessary and discriminatory traditions still exist in student culture. The seating at "sitsit" dinners, for example, is usually based on traditional sex norms. “This has always been done this way” is not an airtight justification for continuing a tradition. Those hosting these events should assess whether it is necessary to seat people based on gender, for example.
Jeremi Nyyssönen is TEK’s Student Affairs Specialist and a master’s level IT student at the University of Turku. The text has been supplemented with notes from Seta’s Education Expert Marita Karvinen.