Name: Shayn Keiter-Massefski ’21
Hometown: Sharon, Massachusetts
Academics: major in psychology and education; Five College Certificate in Cognitive Neuroscience
Pronouns: he, him, his and they, them, theirs
Shayn Keiter-Massefski had gravitated towards Mount Holyoke because the campus felt magical, “Hogwarts-like — which I know a lot of other people say too — but more queer- and trans-friendly,” they say.
That point became solidified when Keiter-Massefski was visiting a class as a prospective student. The professor noted their pronouns when they greeted the visitor.
“That was my moment where I said, this is something that exists! It’s not just people my age who are trans and nonbinary,” says Keiter-Massefski, who uses he, him, his pronouns in addition to they, them, theirs. “I knew that conceptually but it was really welcoming to be in this random class and see, oh, there’s a nonbinary professor.”
As a peer health educator in high school, they knew they wanted to explore health, education and sex education, especially from a queer and transgender perspective. As a student at Mount Holyoke, Keiter-Massefski has been able to follow those interests in the biology of human behavior in both academic and cocurricular parts of their life.
“My trans, nonbinary and autistic identities are separate but they’re also very linked,” he said. “I am visibly trans and nonbinary, and at Mount Holyoke, that is validated and affirmed in a space that might be seen as a women’s space. I’ve only had a couple classes where I was the only trans person, and it has always been very nice to not feel like I’m the only one.”
They were able to bring the topics together in their senior thesis, which is on nonbinary multiple pronoun users, and their proudest accomplishment at Mount Holyoke.
“I wasn’t planning on doing an honors thesis,” Keiter-Massefski said. “I was invited. I told my professor, Corey Flanders, that there is no research on nonbinary multiple-pronoun users, there is very little psych research — or research in general — on trans people, and not very much on nonbinary trans people. I wanted to learn about it. I have been very grateful for that opportunity.”
Keiter-Massefski created a survey for his thesis and sent it out into the internet. Even though it was a lengthy, open-response survey with no multiple choice questions, he got 80 responses, his maximum number.
“People are really willing to participate in it,” they say. “They have things to say and valuable experiences to share. And nobody’s collecting that data. It was definitely a very exciting moment.”
Another particularly close faculty connection has been Jamie Church, a postdoctoral fellow in the department.
“I found a really quick connection with Jamie, because she borders that psychology/neuroscience area that I’ve had a lot of interest in,” Keiter-Massefski said. “I’ve taken all of her classes. It has been nice to have that connection and have someone who really makes it interesting. Also, she has dedicated herself to equity in the classroom, noticing inequity and focusing on justice.”
Although he has a deep interest in the neuroscience aspects of behavior, Keiter-Massefski didn’t have time in his schedule to fit in the major. That’s where the Five College Certificate in Cognitive Neuroscience came in, offered through the Five College Consortium.
“I’m glad to have that opportunity,” they say. “I will come out of Mount Holyoke with some knowledge about neuroscience, some expertise in the field, in case that’s something I want to move into later.”
Out of the classroom, Keiter-Massefski has been involved in a number of areas on campus, including MoHealth Peer Health Educators, which he joined in their first semester. He’s also worked in the AccessAbility office and Career Development Center, and gotten involved with the relatively new Neurodiverse Students Association.
What is it that they love about Mount Holyoke? “How easy it has been for me to make connections and form relationships in so many different areas,” Keiter-Massefski says. “I have been able to use those relationships to foster a lot of different areas of interest. I am grateful to have those connections, both as friendships and mentorships.”
As for future plans, that’s a harder question.
“I have a lot of areas of interest and being at Mount Holyoke has not helped narrow them down, it has expanded them,” he says. “Right now, my hope is to explore working in disability services. I don’t know what I want to go to grad school for because I have at least three different areas of interest. So I’m picking the one that’s the main focus and getting some experience in that and seeing how it goes.”