Building Trans-Inclusive Learning Spaces: Considerations for Instructors and Teaching Assistants

  1. Review the case study scenario and adapt it to your context if necessary.
  2. Review the key concepts and discussion questions, thinking about how you might adapt them to your specific context.
  3. Consider how you would like to facilitate the activity by thinking of the following questions:
  • Would you like to identify people to facilitate small group discussions ahead of time so that small group discussions will have a guide to keep them on track? Or will the session participants work on their own in small groups without a facilitator/leader?
  • Will you ask someone to take notes during small group discussions? How can these be recorded and shared with the whole group?
  • Would you like to have participants read the case study and discussion questions ahead of time as “homework,” or do you have enough time to do that during your session?   
  1. Divide participants into groups of 3-5. You may want each group to include a facilitator with knowledge of the issues discussed in the scenario, and who can help guide the conversation.
  2. Give groups 10-15 minutes to discuss the scenario. You may want to give each group a large piece of paper where they can document their response to the discussion questions and other additional thoughts.
  3. Debrief as a large group. Each small group shares what they discussed and the facilitator supports the larger debrief.

Read the case study scenario. Take a moment to think about the discussion questions then discuss with your group.

This case was developed and presented by staff of the EIO office as a part of a workshop titled “Toward A More Effective and Inclusive Teaching Team: Leveraging the Unique Role of Teaching Assistants” during UBC’s 2019 Summer Institute.  

This case study was created primarily for those who are involved in teaching in higher education (e.g., faculty, instructors, TAs) to explore various trans-inclusive teaching practices and how they can apply to instructor-TA relationships.

Through this case study activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Consider inclusive teaching practices and how to model them, particularly in relation to gender identity and trans inclusion;
  2. Develop strategies for creating more inclusive classrooms, and;
  3. Reflect on how to leverage the role of the instructor to make classrooms more supportive of TAs

Gender identity

An individual’s internal sense of being a man, a woman, a non-binary person, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

Transgender, trans, or trans identified

A term for people whose gender identity, expression, or behaviour is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad term and trans is shorthand for transgender.


This term is often used an umbrella term to refer to gender identities that do not fall exclusively in man/male or woman/female categories. Some people use the term non-binary as their identity but others may use terms such as genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, and bigender. Non-binary gender identities are not new identities or new concepts – they have existed throughout the world for as long as gender has been a conscious identity of humans.

For more information on terminology and related topics of sexual orientation and gender identity please see the UBC Equity & Inclusion website.

Please read the scenario below that illustrates a potential classroom situation.

You are teaching an introductory biology course with a team of four Teaching Assistants (TAs) who each lead multiple lab sections. One of your TAs, Rachel, approaches you because she has heard from one of the other TAs, Grey, that they are struggling with one of their lab sections. Grey identifies as non-binary and uses “they/them” pronouns but some students repeatedly use “she” during one lab section despite some reminders and gentle corrections. You know that Grey introduced themselves on the first day of the term to the whole class and shared their pronouns at that time. Rachel shares with you that she is worried about Grey because they are getting very uncomfortable with teaching the lab and even saying that they can’t keep working as a TA in the department, especially after one student made a comment that “I’m going to complain to the prof, we shouldn’t have to worry about this in a biology class anyway” after Grey corrected them again.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

1. How can you support both TAs moving forward?

2. How could you improve communication with your Teaching Team and create space for TAs to share challenges they are encountering and/or brainstorm solutions?

3. As an instructor, what strategies could you use early in the term to prevent similar situations in the future?

  • How might you model proper pronoun use?
  • What are some ways you could have communicated support for gender-diverse people early on?
  • How might you use class time to set up expectations for labs?

4. If students do come to you to express frustrations, how might you respond to their concerns?

5. What could you or your department do differently to anticipate this situation in the future?

These talking points are meant to help the facilitator generate meaningful conversation with the group. There are not final or comprehensive answers but rather meant to be starting points from which to launch more in-depth discussion.

Creating Trans-Inclusive Learning Environments

The instructor does not seem to have given much thought to their role in creating a trans-inclusive environment for their students or their TAs. Two aspects of creating trans-inclusive classrooms are:

(1) expressing explicit support for gender diversity, which can take the form of modelling the use of gender-neutral pronouns, talking about gender as non-binary, featuring trans and non-binary people in your examples, slides, photos, case studies, etc.

(2) creating a learning environment where instructors and TAs do not rely on assumptions about gender (e.g., by avoiding stereotypes about men and women, assumptions about what students are like based on their gender, or gendered language like “the man in the last row” or “ladies and gentlemen”).

Stereotypes and gendered assumptions can affect everyone, which means that trans-inclusive classrooms have a positive impact on everyone, including cisgender men and women. This is especially true in fields where women have historically been underrepresented and gendered assumptions can negatively impact their experience.

Consider the following questions:

  • How could instructors minimize gendered assumptions made by students and other ways that gender can show up in classrooms?
  • How can instructors express their explicit support for gender diversity?
  • How can instructors support TAs to do the same in their lab sections so that the Teaching Team presents a united front to students?

If a student were to complain to the instructor about this situation, it would be an opportunity for them to model what trans inclusion looks like and why it matters regardless of the subject matter of the course. Creating inclusive classrooms is important in all contexts, and that means respecting people’s identity and supporting people of all genders.

Building Capacity for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Whole Teaching Team

Teaching Assistants typically have less teaching experience than instructors, and learn from watching how instructors teach and handle various teaching-related situations. Instructors have an opportunity to model equity, diversity and inclusion, and build some capacity and confidence in their TAs to consider EDI in their own teaching practice.

In this scenario, the fact that Grey did not approach the instructor directly about this issue may be a sign that they feel unsupported or unsafe to do so. The instructor likely did not model inclusive practices in class or in meetings with the Teaching Team. Consider the following questions:

  • How can instructors identify what support looks like for different TAs?
  • How can instructors set a tone of respect and inclusion in the classroom prior to any incident?
  • When meeting with Teaching Assistants, how might instructors include time and space for considering EDI questions ? How can the Teaching Team anticipate EDI issues that might arise in the course?
  • What tools and resources do instructors have access to in order to address these situations and prepare for them?
  • How can an instructor balance drawing on the expertise of marginalized people in their teaching team, without burdening them with having to do the work of educating others (students, the instructor, other TAs) on these issues?

Supporting Your TAs in Difficult Teaching Situations

Relationships between TAs and instructors are imbued with power dynamics, which are often amplified in the context of EDI issues (here, for example, the fear of the instructor not supporting trans inclusion). To support TAs to succeed, it is important that TAs feel able to discuss challenges and questions with the instructor they are working with. In this scenario, the fact that the instructor was informed of the situation by another TA and not directly by the TA who is struggling suggests that TA-instructor communication may need be in need of improvement.

Consider the following questions:

  • How can instructors lay out clear and supportive parameters around communication at the beginning of the term?
  • How can instructors take power dynamics into consideration when setting expectations for communication with their TAs?
  • How can instructors position themselves to better support TAs through challenging situations that may arise when leading labs or sections?

How can instructors anticipate, recognize and address the impact on TAs of everyday interactions that undermine their identity or expertise (see this resource on microaggressions)?

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When re-using this resource, please attribute as follows: Developed by the Inclusive Teaching And Learning Staff, Equity and Inclusion Office at the University of British Columbia.


Post image: “study space” By ocegep. CC BY 2.0