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Hard conversations make Beavers stronger

Kriya Sadhana, an Ecampus student in women, gender and sexuality studies, speaks with a student in the same program on campus.

By Julie Cooper

Initiating a difficult conversation in the workplace takes boldness and skill. And Kriya Sadhana has been doing it for years.

Kriya, an Oregon State University Ecampus student majoring in women, gender and sexuality studies online, was excited to begin working at a grocery store chain in Portland that has a clear stance as a transgender-friendly company.

However, they quickly observed a need in the workplace that they believed stemmed from a societal lack of education about trans identities.

“I watched friends of mine who were transitioning on the job and not getting the respect they needed, and it was glaringly obvious that something needed to happen,” Kriya says.

Rather than waiting for someone to address the problem, they decided to apply their own knowledge to improve the atmosphere for transgender employees.

A queer studies assignment in one of Kriya’s Ecampus classes prompted them to begin developing a curriculum for managers and employees to foster a more inclusive workplace environment for transgender employees.

Kriya learned that co-worker Jay D. Rae-StockLynn had begun similar training efforts within his department, and together they developed a curriculum that could be offered company-wide.

The two facilitated trainings within the grocery store chain where they worked, and in April 2016, officially launched the training program as a business called Trans Affirming Spaces.

“If I help make things better for one person who is struggling at work, then I’ve done my job.”

Kriya Sadhana, a WGSS online student, smiles in an outdoor setting. Kriya puts their degree to use by creating spaces that are safe and affirming to transgender and non-binary people of all ages.

“I found someone with a similar interest in making changes within the workplace, and we were able to collaborate to create not just a business, but an experience for our coworkers,” says Oregon State Ecampus student Kriya Sadhana.

For Kriya, this training also addresses a need for more transgender people’s stories to be told.

“One key to supporting the trans community, like with supporting other marginalized communities, is to listen: Listen to trans people, listen to our stories, listen to our requests, listen to what we have to offer, and respect where we’re coming from,” Kriya says. “Right now, there’s a lot of discussion about us, decisions being made for us, and not enough people listening to us.”

To provide a more diverse range of experiences in their trainings and to ensure trans employees are being heard, Kriya and Jay bring in trans co-facilitators from the stores where they offer trainings. The co-facilitators act as a point person in the store and help make the content feel more relevant and personalized.

Now, three years into their venture, Kriya and Jay have facilitated nearly 100 trainings at various businesses throughout Portland and Eugene, making a widespread impact for trans employees that reaches far beyond what they originally anticipated.

“We’ve had people contact us after they’ve gone through the class to say, ‘I’m trans, too. Can you help me?’ I’ve drafted coming out emails for several people, been a mediator between folks that are coming out and managers they have had issues with, made sure everybody is using the right pronouns and double-checked with the folks who are having the most issues with it,” Kriya says.

Finn Kay O’Brien, an employee who went through the training at the grocery store where he works, says the training helped him realize he was not alone.

“For me, the workshop was life-changing. It gave me the confidence to come out as trans at work. I felt like so much of the ground work had been done, and that I was safe,” Finn says.

“Right now, there’s a lot of discussion about us, decisions being made for us, and not enough people listening to us.”

For Kriya, who will become one of the first in their family to have earned a bachelor’s degree, this successful business opportunity is serving as a springboard into their next venture: attending graduate school to earn a master’s degree that will allow them to work with queer and transgender youth – something Kriya has been passionate about since high school.

“When I was coming out, my LGBTQ friends were getting kicked out of their houses and ended up homeless or on the streets,” Kriya says. “That was my motivation for getting into the women, gender and sexuality studies program.”

Kriya hopes to use their skills to empower homeless queer and trans youth with the language and confidence to teach on their own behalf and ensure organizations understand their needs.

Kriya’s work with Trans Affirming Spaces has built a strong foundation for their future, educating and inspiring countless people along the way.

“Whenever someone approaches me after class and thanks me because they now feel a little safer about being out or coming out, or because they have a better understanding of their trans child, sibling or relative, I feel like I’ve had the impact that I needed to have,” Kriya says.

“If I help make things better for one person who is struggling at work, then I’ve done my job.”

Julie Cooper is a marketing communications intern for the OSU Division of Extended Campus through the PROMISE Internship Program.

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