“What you do here has a very real impact on LGBTQ+ students and their ability to achieve academically, on their ability to be healthy and whole human beings and their ability to leave this place prepared to be successful in the world,” said Jamie Bruesehoff to the entire Brookdale community at the Spring 2020 Convocation on January 21. “Every single one of you has to be a part of creating a space where these students know they can be safe.”

Bruesehoff is an award-winning writer, speaker and advocate. “She is an openly queer woman married to a Lutheran pastor and mom to three spirited children, including a 13-year-old transgender daughter,” Christian Perez, senior technician in Testing Services and co-chair of the Diversity Council, said in his introduction to the keynote speaker at Convocation.

“Jamie shares her experience in a way that touches hearts, changes minds and inspires positive change,” Perez said. Bruesehoff’s daughter Rebekah is transgender. Rebekah spoke at Brookdale this past May at The Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (Chhange) Colloquium about her fight for the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people.

Bruesehoff shared her experience of being a parent to a transgender child and learning about the sobering statistics. “Transgender people face extraordinary rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, unemployment, poverty, and homelessness,” she said. According to the American Association of Suicide Prevention, 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. “That’s the first statistic you learn when you have a transgender kid, and it still knocks the wind out of me,” she said.

“But there is good news. We have the power to change this,” Bruesehoff said. In a recently published study, it found that “students ages 15 to 21 who are called by their chosen name at school, home, work, work, and with their friends experienced 71% fewer symptoms of depression and a 65% reduction in suicidal attempts.” On the college application, Brookdale has a field where students can enter their chosen name. This appears on rosters so professors can call students by their chosen name, a simple way to help everyone feel more comfortable and be successful.

Bruesehoff said there are other ways the college can help transgender people and help them achieve their academic goals. “We look at people, human beings, over the terms and their definitions,” Bruesehoff said. “We can listen to who people say they are, listen to the language they use to describe themselves and mirror that language back to them,” he said. “Most importantly we respect self-identification. We trust people when they tell us who they are and we respond accordingly,” she said.

“Next, we can be visible as allies,” Bruesehoff said. “They are constantly reading situations deciding if this a place where I can be fully myself. They are constantly looking for little hints,” she said. Constantly wondering if they are safe comes with anxiety as students are struggling. “Students need indicators that this is a place where their identify is welcome, where it’s okay for them to show up fully as themselves so they can learn to the best of their abilities.” She suggested displaying rainbow stickers or pins on your person or on your office door.

By using students’ chosen names, creating an accepting atmosphere, and not allowing bias language or bullying, Brookdale can help change the alarming statistics and help all students be successful. “Studies continually show that higher education students who are more comfortable and accepted on campus consistently have higher academic success,” Bruesehoff said. “Brookdale can make it easier for them to go about their days and focus on their studies,” she said of transgender students.

“Creating more gender inclusive spaces and more gender informed spaces doesn’t just benefit your trans students. The Brookdale community has the opportunity to inform and equip all of your students in order to be successful in an increasingly diverse world. By setting these standards and expectations for how we live together you are sending students out more prepared to enter into all sorts of spaces, workplaces and communities,” Bruesehoff said.