Winona State presents transgender alumni panel


Shannon Galliart

Alumni Cole Moravec, Kaylee Jakubowski and Michael Hughes discussed their experiences of finding and getting jobs as transgender individuals on Wednesday, Nov. 8 in East Hall.

Lauren Gennerman, Features Reporter

Alumni discuss finding jobs as transgender individuals

Three former students returned to Winona State University to answer audience questions and share experiences of navigating employment while embracing and sometimes hiding their gender identity on Nov. 8.

The panel was the last scheduled event from the Inclusion and Diversity Office’s Dimensions of Diversity Speaker Series for the fall semester.

Cole Moravec, Kaylee Jakubowski and Michael Hughes all sat on the panel in East Hall inside Kryzsko Commons that night to speak about their experiences during and after their time at Winona State.

The panel was led by Charlie Opatz, who was hired in 2010 as new career counselor and college liaison for Winona State’s College of Business. Opatz fielded audience questions, as well as provided some of his own to ask the panel.

“This is an open space,” Opatz said. “It’s important that people feel comfortable asking the questions they want to. The panelists have agreed that pretty much everything is up for discussion.”

The first question was about pronouns and why using correct ones for transgender people, or the pronouns asked for by the specific person, is so important.

“[Using correct] pronouns are a way of saying ‘I see you and I respect you,’” Jakubowski said.

Moravec agreed that respect is essential in relationships with those who are transgender.

Similarly, the topic of using correct names came up, and how important respecting name changes is.

Jakubowski and Hughes both have legally changed their names, but Moravec has not yet started that process, as it can be an unexpectedly complicated one. Jakubowski talked about how she couldn’t yet get a passport without a doctor’s permission, while Hughes brought up how legally changing one’s name isn’t a one-step process, but a long series of events that can be complicated down to each step. However, name changes can be a task even when it doesn’t have to do with the law.

Nicole Girgen
Charlie Opatz, an academic advisor and career counselor at Winona State, introduces the transgender alumni panelists on Wednesday, Nov. 8 in East Hall. As transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, the panelists discussed how their identity affects their experiences in the workplace.

“Don’t ask people if you can keep calling them by their old name because it’s easier for you. It’s ridiculously disrespectful,” Jakubowski said. “It happened to me way too much, and it tells me you don’t care about me.”

One of the main focuses of the event was to see how these alumni maneuvered through the workplace after graduation. Jakubowski talked about her current job at the Women’s Resource Center in Winona, and how it was the most respectful and inclusive of the jobs she has had. Hughes, who now works for Apple in Minneapolis, talked about how he was fired from his old job when his boss found out he was transgender.

“I was fired in a room with eight people I worked with and had formed relationships with,” Hughes said. “None of them stood up for me. My boss was especially appalled and disgusted that he had once shared a bathroom with me.”

Coming out while in college was also a significant topic with the panel, and all of the speakers reflected on many positive moments while in school.

“As a whole, I had a wonderful experience here,” Hughes said. “I felt [Winona State] was a very accepting place.”

However, there were still issues that impacted their experiences.

“There was more good than bad, for sure, but the bad parts hurt more than people realize,” Jakubowski said. “The learning process can be extremely difficult when my humanity isn’t respected.”

Nicole Girgen
Jodi Monerson, an academic adviser and recruitment and retention specialist at the Inclusion and Diversity Office, looks for audience members with questions at the Transgender Alumni Panel last Wednesday in East Hall.

Other topics discussed included how they presented at work, bathroom bills, privilege, insurance and health care, and coming out in relationships, as well as how to be a better ally to transgender people.

“It was amazing to me when teachers especially would make an effort to get to know how they could best support me in their class,” Jakubowski said. “It was cool to see teachers learning along with us.”

Hughes also encourages students to correct people when they misuse pronouns, but that it shows your respect for them and it should go both ways.

When reflecting on the event afterwards, the panelists were largely impressed and optimistic.

“The panel had a fantastic turnout which I appreciated. The students seemed very engaged and asked some great questions,” Hughes said. “The questions were great, and most were surrounding employment experience. Even though that was the topic of the evening, it’s always nice to have people ask general questions surrounding our personal experiences as transgender people.”

Moravec appreciated seeing many students in the audience and that those on campus care about making others feel included.

Hughes was especially encouraged that Winona State hosted the panel in the first place.

“I think Winona State does a great job supporting its trans students and will continue to get better and better at it because they really work at providing these types of outreach opportunities to learn more about transgender people,” Hughes said. “I just encourage faculty and staff to keep reaching out to me to do what I can to assist with panels and individual engagement.”

Students were impressed with both the questions asked by their peers and the answers given.

“This is just so important to talk about,” Beth Einck, a first-year legal studies major, said. “With all of the political debate around things like bathroom bills and discrimination laws, it’s so crucial to hear from the people this affects. I think we forget about their voice way too much.”

“I never realized how much harder a transgender person has to work just to achieve the same standard of living as I do,” Ashley Swearingon, a first-year clinical lab science major, said. “It was just so eye-opening.”