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A Primer on Transgender Basic Cultural Competence

  • A trans person may have a chosen name that they prefer and may not have legally changed their name. It is important to ask someone what name they prefer and then to use that name when interacting with them, whether or not they have legally changed their name.
  • Ask a person what pronoun they use if you don't know. For example, you may want to say "I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?" This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right. (Note: some clients may prefer no pronouns, or gender neutral pronouns such as "they/them/their" or "ze/hir").
  • Ask when and where a specific pronoun is appropriate (e.g., due to safety issues, a trans woman housed in a men's prison may choose to pass as male in general population to reduce her risk of sexual violence.)
  • Always refer to someone by their stated pronouns unless they have specified otherwise.
  • Make a note of correct name and pronouns in any information sharing system so that all staff is aware of the appropriate pronouns for the client. This prevents the trans person from having to come out and explain themselves over and over again.
  • If you make a mistake, apologize and correct yourself as soon as you realize the mistake.
  • Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is important to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun as misused is present, because it helps to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.
  • Respect a person's right to privacy about their past and their body. Unless you are a medical provider, it is unlikely that you have any reason to need information about a person 's medical history. Medical and surgical treatments are part of some, but not all trans people's gender expression. Trans people's medical history is no less confidential than anyone else's.
  • Treat knowledge of a person's transgender status as confidential.


Transgender Vocabulary

There are as many ways to be transgender as there are transgender people. While you may hear the phrase "transgender community," it should not be taken to mean that all trans people are identical, that they have the same experience or understanding and view of gender. The language trans people use to describe themselves, their bodies, their gender and their sexuality varies from person to person.

Transgender  refers to many different kinds of people who experience some discomfort with their assigned sex or expected gender role, including transsexuals and other gender variant people. Many gender variant people may not identify with the term transgender. Transgender people may choose to alter their appearance through style and dress. A transgender person might or might not engage in hormone therapy or have surgeries or other procedures so that their bodies match their gender identities.

Trans  is an acceptable abbreviation of transgender or transsexual. Do not use "Tranny" as this is a derogatory and unacceptable abbreviation.

Transsexual  is used to describe people who identify with a gender different than what they were assigned at birth. In some medical and legal discourse, transsexual is used exclusively to refer to people who have had or intend to have Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS). Today, many understand that transgender people might choose not to have any form of surgery. Because the meaning of the term transsexual may be controversial, unless someone uses this term to refer to themselves, it is best to avoid it.

Trans women  are trans people who identify and understand themselves as women. Respectful labels usually refer to where someone is heading, to their future, and not to their past. A trans woman might identify as 'MtF' or 'male-to-female,' referring to their assigned sex (male) and self-identified gender (female).

Trans men  are trans people who identify as male. A trans man might call themselves 'FtM' or'female-to-male,' again referring to assigned sex (female) and self-identified gender (male).

Assigned sex  refers to the sex one was assumed to be at birth, usually based on a cursory visual inspection of genitals.

Gender  refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. It is important to understand the distinctions between gender identity and gender expression.

Gender identity  refers to a person's self-conception of their gender, such as male, female, genderqueer etc.

Gender expression  refers to the relationship between a person's behaviors and society's perception of those behaviors as being gender specific (masculine, feminine, androgynous, etc.). Note: gender identity and gender expression do not necessarily correlate and may vary over time or context (e.g., a person could have a female gender identity and a masculine ["butch"] gender expression; a person could have a male or androgyne gender identity and a gender expression that varies between masculine and feminine depending on context).

Cisgender  is an adjective you might hear in the context of trans issues, meaning non-trans.

Intersex  people are born with bodies that don't easily fit into categories of male or female. Often intersex people undergo surgical procedures on their genitals as newborns, and might have been raised with hormone therapy and further surgeries. Today, many intersex people stand with transsexuals in demanding the rights to self-determine the form of their own bodies, opposing treatments on infants.

Some resources for transgender law information include:


Characteristics of a Multi-culturally Competent Student Affairs Practitioner

Multicultural Awareness Multicultural Knowledge Multicultural Skills
A belief that differences are valuable and that learning about others who are culturally different is necessary and rewarding Knowledge of diverse cultures and oppressed groups (i.e., history, traditions, values, customs, resources, issues.) Ability to identify and openly discuss cultural differences and issues
A willingness to take risks and see them as necessary and important for personal and professional growth Information about how change occurs for individual values and behaviors Ability to assess the impact of cultural differences on communication and effectively communicate across those differences
A personal commitment to justice, social change, and combating depression Knowledge about the ways that cultural differences affect verbal and nonverbal communication Capability to empathize and genuinely connect with individuals who are culturally different from themselves
A belief in the value and significance of their own cultural heritage and worldview as a starting place for understanding others who are culturally different Knowledge about how gender, class, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, sexual orientation, age, religion or spirituality, and disability and ability affect individuals and their experiences Ability to incorporate new learning and prior learning in new situations
A willingness to self-examine and, when necessary, challenge and change their own values, worldview, assumptions, and biases Information about culturally appropriate resources and how to make referrals Ability to gain trust and respect of individuals who are culturally different from themselves
An openness to change, and believe that change is necessary and positive Information about the nature of institutional oppression and power Capability to accurately assess their own multicultural skills, comfort level, growth, and development
An acceptance of other worldviews and perspectives and a willingness to acknowledge that,as individuals, they do not have all the answers Knowledge about identity development models and the acculturation process for members of oppressed groups and their impact on individuals, groups, intergroup relations, and society Ability to differentiate among individual differences, cultural differences, and universal similarities
A belief that cultural differences do not have to interfere with effective communication or meaningful relationships Knowledge about within-group differences and understanding of multiple identities and multiple oppressions Ability to challenge and support individuals and systems around oppression issues in a manner that optimizes multicultural interventions
Awareness of their own cultural heritage and how it affects their worldview, values, and Information and understanding of internalized oppression and its impact on identity and self-esteem Ability to make individual, group, and institutional multicultural interventions
Awareness of their own behavior and its impact on others Knowledge about institutional barriers that limit access to and success in higher education for members of oppressed groups Ability to use cultural knowledge and sensitivity to make more culturally sensitive and appropriate interventions
Awareness of interpersonal process that occurs within a multicultural dyad Knowledge about systems theories and how systems change  

Source: Pope and Reynolds (1997). Pope, Reynolds, and Mueller {2004). Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs ,Table 1.1(pp.18-19)


All-Gender and Gender-Specific Facilities Use

Students, faculty, staff and other members of the Stony Brook University community are permitted to use facilities such as restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations, including Title IX. Accommodation of the needs of our entire community also includes the creation of all-gender multi-use restrooms. All-gender restrooms are available at the Student Activities Center (SAC) and allow LGBTQ individuals, persons with disabilities who may require assistance from a companion of a different gender and families with small children to freely use these facilities without facing discrimination or alienation. Single-stall restrooms are also available in various locations thorough out our campus for any individuals with privacy concerns. For a complete listing of all-gender and single-stall restrooms, please visit


Affirmnet: Affirmative Action and Diversity Partner Listserv

The Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity at the Stony Brook University has developed AffirmNet, to serve as a bulletin board for the exchange of ideas on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity. AffirmNet evolved from our desire to foster communication and interaction between men and women working in the areas of Equal Employment Opportunity at higher educational institutions. This interaction provides a resource to accomplish the objectives of creating greater diversity in the workplace and eliminating past, present, and future discrimination. Today there are over 157 members from across the United States. Our membership is growing every day, and we would like to encourage your participation. AffirmNet messages and postings include the following:

  • Announcements for job openings and positions
  • Program announcements
  • Requests for information about specific issues
  • Information about methodology and procedures for developing accurate Affirmative Action plans and other reports
  • Questions, answers and opinions


Subscription Requirements

There is no fee associated with membership to AffirmNet. In order to become a member you need:

  • To be a staff member at an higher educational institution whose work is related to diversity, inclusion and/or equity or to Title IX or Title VII compliance.
  • To have access to electronic mail (e-mail)


How To Subscribe?

Subscribe in one of two ways:

  1. Send an e-mail message to: AFFIRMNET-SERVER@LISTS.SUNYSB.EDU
    • Be sure that there are no spaces or typographical errors in the address. In the text of the message (not the subject) type:
    • Subscribe AFFIRMNET [Name of Subscriber]
    • Once this message has been received, you will receive the message:
    • "The AFFNET list is not open to automatic subscriptions. Your request is being forwarded to the list owner."
    • Once the list owner receives your request, you will be required to submit some additional information about yourself and then your request will be processed.
  2. If your attempts to subscribe are unsuccessful, send an e-mail message to   Antonio Ferrantino
    • The text of the message should state your Name, Title, Department, Organization Name, Full Mailing Address, Phone, Fax, and the E-mail address that you will be using.
    • Your subscription will be processed within one week. After your subscription is processed, you will receive a welcome message and a summary of instructions.


Sending A Message To The List

You can send messages to all subscribers by sending an e-mail message to our list address: AFFIRMNET@LISTS.SUNYSB.EDU
This is called "sending mail to the list" because you send mail to a single address and the LISTSERV computer system that organizes our list makes copies of your message and sends it to all subscribers. If you send any other commands to that address, they would be distributed to all subscribers, so you must be careful to use the correct address. Respond to a message that you have received in the same way. If you use your e-mail system's "reply" or "answer" function you will receive an error message and your response will not be sent. If you do not want the entire list to receive your response, make note of the author's e-mail address and respond to them directly.


Leaving The List

  • To leave the list at any time, send a message to LISTSERV@LISTS.SUNYSB.EDU
  • In the text of your message type: Signoff AFFNET
  • For More Information, please contact Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity. List managers are Antonio Ferrantino and Lin Wu Tiedemann. We look forward to having you join our list.