Rights And Responsibilities As A College Student

By Staff Writers

Published on July 26, 2021

Rights And Responsibilities As A College Student

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Title IX, Transgender & Disabled Rights, and Comprehensive Resources

If you are a student about to begin your first year of college, congratulations. You're about to embark on one of the most exciting and potentially rewarding adventures of your life. With the million-and-a-half things to do and know as you head off to campus, though, it's important to include a solid understanding of the basic rights afforded to you, under the law and by school policy, as a college student in the United States. Whether you're a new or seasoned student, it's important to know the various laws, regulations and policies in place to protect college students. This guide covers Title IX protections against sex discrimination and violence; transgender student rights; federal protections for disabled students through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and privacy, contracts and consumer rights.

Sexual Discrimination and Violence/Title IX

Campus Title IX Office

Many colleges have a Title IX office with a designated Title IX director or advocate. For example:

  • Stanford Universityhas a Title IX office and dedicated website where students can find policies, procedures, confidential resources and more.
  • Princeton Universityalso has a sexual misconduct and Title IX office and website where students will find answers to FAQs, information on the Title IX coordinator and instructions for filing a grievance.

Check your campus' website for specific Title IX information and who to contact regarding Title IX issues.Title IX Resource Links

Transgender Student Rights

LGTBQ/Title IX Offices on Campus:

Transgender students are protected from sexual discrimination under Title IX. Title IX offices are poised to help with LGTBQ issues at school with sexual harassment and discrimination, and some schools have specific offices, such as a student diversity office, to assist with LGBTQ issues not directly linked to sexual harassment and discrimination. Examples include:

  • Iowa State Universityhas LGBT student services office, which offers resources, a safe zone program, guest speakers and more.
  • Tulane Universityhouses the Office for Gender & Sexual Diversity. The school offers gender-inclusive housing, gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms, and resources on a variety of transgender issues including how to legally change your name in the state of Louisiana.

Transgender Rights Resource Links

Disabled Student Rights

Disability Services Office/Coordinator

Students living with disabilities have right afforded to them through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most campuses today have a designated office and coordinator for disability services that handles issues regarding accessibility for disabled students studying both on campus and online. For Example:

  • Ohio State Universityhas the Office of Student Life Disability Services, which also offers a dedicated website with information on registering with disability services, accommodations and services and information for future students.
  • TheUniversity of Utah'sCenter for Disability & Access and a dedicated website with sections for students, faculty and staff, and visitors.

Disabled Student Rights Resource Links

Student Civil & Privacy Rights

Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities

Virtually every college and university provides students with a code of student conduct or student rights and responsibilities. These codes cover the school's regulations and procedures regarding most student legal rights, including those of privacy.

Office of Civil Rights/Student Affairs

Students with issues or complaints pertaining to their privacy rights should contact their campus's office of student affairs or, if one exists, office of civil rights.

Privacy & Civil Rights Resources Links

Contract and Consumer Rights

School and Community Law Centers

Contractual relationships are created when a prospective student signs and submits his or her application and enrollment forms. It is crucial, therefore, that individuals read and understand these documents completely before submitting them. When extra legal help may be required, check if your school or community have a public law center or office where students can receive legal information and advice for little or no charge.

Student Rights Guides

Most two-year and virtually all four-year colleges today provide some form of written statement of the legal rights of its students. They are most often included as part of the school's code of student conduct, code of student rights and responsibilities, or a similarly titled document. Here are two typical examples:

Sex Discrimination,
Sexual Assault & Title IX Rights

Sexual assault, violence and discrimination are significant issues faced by many of America's college campuses. And while experts continue to propose various remedies to resolve these problems, it is important for students to know that there are a number of laws and regulations in place to protect their rights if they become a victim of sex discrimination or violence during their time at college. Three of the most significant of these federal legal protections are discussed below.

Title IX

The laws and regulations falling under the Title IX heading are at the heart of federal legal protections against sex discrimination, sexual assault and sexual violence. Passed into law by Congress in 1972, Title IX was originally enacted to ensure that women would receive equal treatment in regard to education and related activities by prohibiting discrimination based on sex by educational institutions or programs receiving federal funding. Title IX applies to all schools receiving federal funds, whether public or private. Specifically, Section 1681(a) of Title IX states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…”

Although best known for its application to collegiate sports, Title IX's statutory reach is quite broad, applying to, “all aspects of education programs or activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance.” Title IX has been interpreted through court decisions and DOE guidance to include a wide range of issues including sexual harassment, sex-related violence, sexual preference discrimination, transgender discrimination, discrimination due to pregnancy, parenting or marital status, and more. Areas of application include recruitment, admissions, housing, field of study (math, science, technology, vocational, etc.), and many others.

Title IX and Athletics

Collegiate athletic programs and activities are considered educational programs and activities and are covered under the protections of Title IX. In practical terms, this means that collegiate athletes must be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports, regardless of gender. The sports or teams themselves need not be identical, but there must be an equal opportunity to play. Athletic scholarship funds must also be available to male and female athletes in proportion to their athletic participation. Additional equitable benefits include access to coaching, equipment, travel and per diem funds, facilities, housing and dining services, publicity, and promotions.

Title IX, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault and Violence

Sexual harassment, generally defined, is “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” While sexual harassment includes all forms of sexual assault and violence, it also includes a variety of behaviors such as written statements, verbal acts, cyberbullying, unwanted advances, sexual touching, spreading sexual rumors, stalking, voyeurism, exhibitionism and physical threats. Sexual harassment can be perpetrated by almost anyone, including school officials, faculty and staff as well as fellow students and peers. Court decisions have confirmed that Title IX protections apply to acts of sexual harassment and that schools have an obligation to address sexual harassment issues and incidents.

First and foremost, sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. Students who are victims of any form of sexual violence, including rape and sexual assault, attempted or completed, fall within the protections set out in Title IX. DOE guidance details the rights of student victims of sexual violence. They include, among others:

Prompt and Effective Response to Sexual Violence

A student victim of sexual violence has the right to report the incident to his or her school, have the school investigate the incident and have the complaint resolved promptly and effectively. The victim may report the incident to campus authorities and/or local law enforcement. A criminal investigation by law enforcement does not, however, relieve the school of its Title IX duties to respond promptly and effectively to a student's complaint.

Schools must adopt and publish its procedures for resolving complaints of sexual violence and ensure that its students are made aware of resources available to them, such as legal assistance, victim advocacy, academic support, housing, health services, and others. Schools should identify to and inform victims of confidential services including counseling, advocacy and academic support.

Interim Measures

Once a student informs his or her school of an incident of sexual violence, he or she has the right to immediate help including changing classes, housing and transportation. The school must also provide the victim with immediate protection, even before completion of its investigation of the incident. The victim additionally has the right to report any retaliatory acts by the alleged perpetrator, faculty or other students, and the school is required to take strong action in response to such retaliation.


Schools are required to conduct an “adequate, reliable, and impartial” investigation regarding any incident of sexual violence reported. Student victim rights regarding the investigation include (among others): the right to be notified of the timeframes of the investigation; the right to present evidence and witnesses; the right to have any proceedings documented; and the right to be notified in writing of the outcome of the complaint and any appeal.


If an investigation reveals the presence of a hostile environment resulting from sexual violence, the school must take prompt and effective steps to end the violence, eliminate the hostile environment and prevent their recurrence.

Issues regarding sexual assault on campus are being dealt with by colleges in a number of different ways. Examples of colleges taking steps to deal with the sexual assault issue include:

Clery and Campus SaVE Acts

The Clery Act (full title: The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act) is a federal statute that mandates all colleges and universities that receive federal funding to collect and maintain information regarding crime on or near their campuses, including crime statistics and campus security policies, and share that information on an annual basis with students and employees, both current and prospective, along with the general public.

Enacted in 2013, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, or Campus SaVE Act, is the name given to a group of amendments to the Clery Act known as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) amendments. The Campus SaVE Act expanded the scope of the Clery Act's requirements regarding schools' responding to and reporting on crimes involving rape, acquaintance rape, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Together, the Clery and Campus SaVE Acts (in conjunction with Title IX) require schools to adhere to a number of related policies and provide several victim support-related services. Schools must provide victims of the crimes described above with a written explanation of their rights and options. Those rights and options include: disciplinary process rights; assistance with notifying law enforcement (if the victim wishes to do so); and options to change housing, working and transportation situations.

To be in compliance with the Clery Act, schools must:

If You Are Sexually Assaulted at School

If you become a victim of sexual assault or violence while at college, consider taking the following steps:

Learn more about campus safety

If You Experience Sexual or
Gender-Based Harassment or Discrimination

Consider the following steps if you become a victim of sexual or gender-based harassment or discrimination:

Transgender Student Rights

As discussed briefly above, recent court decisions and Department of Education guidelines have made clear the Title IX rights and protections extend to issues regarding transgender students. Additionally, state and local statutes, such as anti-bullying laws, may apply. Currently, a dozen states and the District of Columbia have laws in place prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Notwithstanding a few jurisdictions' attempts to defend acts of transgender discrimination (such as North Carolina's “bathroom bill”), the implications of Title IX and related laws and regulations state strongly that, as with sexual harassment and discrimination, gender-based harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated on college campuses, particularly those receiving federal funds.

10 Examples of How College and University Transgender Students Are Protected under Title IX and Related Laws

  1. Under Title IX, schools are required to treat a student's gender identity as the student's sex. This means that students must be treated according to how they identify their gender. This is true even if the student's records or identification documents indicate a different sex.
  2. Schools may not require legal or medical evidence from students as evidence of their gender.
  3. In certain cases, schools may offer nonvocational single-sex classes and extracurricular activities. When offering such classes or activities, however, schools must allow participation to transgender students consistent with their gender identity.
  4. Transgender students have the right to be placed in campus housing according to their gender identity. Students should also check to see if their school provides the option of gender-inclusive housing.
  5. Transgender students have the right to use campus restrooms and locker rooms according to gender identity, although some schools may be exempted from this policy. Some schools may additionally provide gender-inclusive restroom facilities.
  6. Title IX guidance makes clear that transgender students have the right to not be bullied or harassed because they are transgender. Schools are obligated to take action to end such bullying once they become aware of its existence.
  7. A school is in violation of Title IX if it limits a student's educational rights or opportunities by failing to take reasonable steps to protect his or her privacy relating to gender status, including his or her name or sex assigned at birth. Schools must keep records regarding student information on gender status confidential unless it has a legitimate reason not based on gender bias. For a general discussion of student privacy rights, see below.
  8. Transgender students have the right to change their educational records regarding their name and gender marker. They are also entitled to a hearing to challenge the content of records that they believe are inaccurate, misleading or otherwise in violation of their privacy rights.
  9. Schools may sponsor and operate sex-segregated athletic teams. They may not, however, adopt or adhere to requirements that rely on “overly broad generalizations or stereotypes” regarding differences between transgender students and others of the same sex, or others' “discomfort with transgender students.
  10. Schools may not discipline a student or exclude him or her from school activities for appearing or behaving in a manner consistent with his or her gender identity, or in a way that does not conform to “stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

Source: U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Educational Association: Legal Guidance on Transgender Students' RightsWhat to Do if Your Rights Are
Violated as a Transgender Student

Consider these steps if you feel your rights as a transgender student have been violated:

Disability Rights

Pre-college students and their parents are likely quite familiar with the benefits and services afforded them through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). What they may not know, however, is that IDEA does not apply to postsecondary education programs and institutions. Federal regulations regarding the rights of disabled students in college are found primarily in two places: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The services provided through these statutes vary greatly from those afforded by IDEA, so it is important that college-bound students and their parents develop a clear understanding of those differences and what rights are now available to them.

Section 504

Section 504 prohibits discrimination in the participation in programs and activities of students with a physical or mental disability by educational institutions receiving federal funding or other federal assistance. Under Section 504, schools are required to make the “appropriate academic adjustments” or accommodations necessary to ensure the equal opportunity of disabled students to participate in a school's programs. Section 504 imposes a number of requirements and restrictions regarding how schools operate in relation to their disabled students. Examples of accommodations disabled students may expect include:

Title II

Title II of the ADA prohibits state and local government entities from discriminating against “qualified individuals with disabilities” in regard to programs, services and activities provided by those entities. In practical terms, Title II extends the prohibition against discrimination of disabled students afforded by Section 504 to all state and local governments (including public colleges and universities) regardless of whether they receive federal funding or not.

What to Do if Your Rights Are Violated as a Student with a Disability

Consider these actions if you have experienced a violation of your rights as a disabled college student:

First Amendment Rights:
The Foundation of the Rights of American Citizens

At the foundation of student rights, as with all other individual rights in the United States, are the Constitution and its first 10 Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. Of particular significance in the discussion of college student rights are the protections afforded under the First Amendment (speech religion, press, assembly, redress of grievances) and the Fifth Amendment (due process).

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to a comprehensive analysis and discussion of the Constitution as it relates to education and student rights. Included among its abundant resources is this Guide to Due Process and Campus Justice.

Right to Privacy in College

Although not specifically expressed in the Constitution, the right to privacy is said to be “alluded to” via Supreme Court decisions in the language of a number of Constitutional amendments, particularly the Fourth Amendment. This implied right of privacy is applicable to all U.S. citizens including, of course, college students. The federal government has additionally enacted statutes, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), to further codify and clarify certain privacy rights for students.

Right of privacy issues of particular concern to college students include those related to due process, equality, autonomy, safety, privacy, accountability in contracts and advertising, and others. Areas of particular concern include:


Students living in a college dormitory may be surprised to learn that their right to privacy within their room and other dorm facilities is more limited than they might expect. Court decisions regarding student privacy in dorms tend to favor the college's rights to enter and search such premises for a number of purposes including the health and safety of students and for the enforcement of school regulations.

Student housing agreements often contain provisions for broad entry and search rights on the part of the school and courts have, for the most part, upheld these provisions. Students planning to live on-campus or off-campus in college-owned housing should be aware of these limitations on their privacy expectations and read their housing agreements carefully.

Academic Records

When it comes to many issues concerning student privacy rights, the courts have always approached the subject as a balance between individual student privacy expectations and the schools' duty to protect the health and safety of all students. This has been the case in regard to student academic and related records. Under FERPA, schools are generally required to obtain written consent from a student before disclosing his or her personally identifiable information.

There are, however, a number of exceptions to this general rule including those involving health and safety emergencies, law enforcement, disciplinary incidents and collection of data per Clery Act requirements. In regard to records disclosure to parents, the general rule is that, with a few exceptions, once a student turns 18 years of age or enters a postsecondary school at any age, all privacy rights under FERPA pass to the student alone.

Health Information

Privacy issues regarding student health records maintained by a school's health services department fall under FERPA rules. FERPA mandates that schools distinguish between “treatment records” and “education records.” Education records created and maintained by a school's health services department must be treated like all other academic records in regard to privacy. Different rules apply to treatment records, however.

The general rule is that schools must obtain the student's written consent before disclosing treatment records to others, but may disclose those records without written consent under a limited number of circumstances (sharing with other healthcare providers, emergency situations). Disclosure may also be made to parents without the student's written consent under the same conditions as education records.

Online Privacy Protection

With the ever-increasing use of online personal accounts (social media, personal finance, etc.), a greater concern for personal privacy and security for those accounts has arisen. In particular, maintaining the privacy of such accounts for students and employees is crucial. In the case of college students, those concerns have to do with attempts by education institutions to require or coerce students into disclosing login information for personal online accounts.

In the past several years, a number of states have enacted laws meant to address these privacy intrusions issues. Additionally, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) has adopted the Uniform Employee and Student Online Privacy Protection Act (ESOPPA), a proposed uniform state law on the issue. As of this writing, no state legislature has yet enacted the ESOPPA or a substantially similar proposal into law. It is likely, however, that such legislation will be coming in the future. 

How the Department of Education
Helps Protect Student Civil Rights

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is tasked by the Federal Government with ensuring equal access to education and, “promoting educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation's schools.” Primary to its mission is the prohibition of discrimination on campuses receiving federal funding in the following areas:

Individuals or organizations may file a complaint with the OCR, for themselves or on the behalf of another if they believe they have been a victim of discrimination while pursuing their education. Complaints can be filed online on the OCR website.[Design: Callout box/sidebar

College Students & Contractual Rights

Contractual relationships are created between students and education institutions in any number of situations. These relationships typically become binding on both the educational institution and the student (if the student is over the age of 18) at the time of the agreement, normally upon signing. Once binding, certain rights and obligations are created for the contractual parties. The following are three specific contractual relationship issues that students should be particularly aware of:

Expert Advice on Student Rights

Ann James

Northern Kentucky University

Ann James is the senior associate dean of students within the Division of Student Affairs at Northern Kentucky University. She serves as the director of the Office of Student Conduct, Rights and Advocacy as well as the deputy Title IX coordinator for students. She is responsible for supervision of the Norse Violence Prevention Center and student ombuds services as well as serving as the university's chief conduct officer.


How important is Title IX to what your office does?

I focus a lot on Title IX, which covers a number of areas. Incoming students should read up on what their rights are under Title IX. Title IX protects all college students against any kind of gender-based harassment, sexual misconduct including sexual assault, sexual harassment and things like that. In addition, Title IX applies to pregnant and parenting students, so if a student becomes pregnant, or if their partner becomes pregnant, Title IX covers that as well. And then recently, the Department of Education has come out with some guidance regarding working with transgender students, specifically stating that Title IX does address gender-based discrimination related to gender identity. So [Title IX] is pretty broad.

How can students become familiar with their rights as a student at their school?

Read their school's code of conduct. [At NKU], we call it the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which is basically a set of guidelines or standards to which students are held. It's really important for students to be familiar with that document because not only does it have rules for students, it also typically describes student rights. For example, it will have specific policies related to free speech on campus. If a student has a complaint about a process within the university or about another student or faculty member, it will explain how to file a complaint. It also typically has information on academic misconduct, academic freedoms – those processes. It's just a really important document.

If a student has something happen to him or her that is a crime, like sexual assault, where should that student go first?

My personal concern is to make sure that students know about all of their resources and I want them to get to somebody. We have a university police department on our campus and I let students know about that. I make sure they know about resources within the University for counseling and advocacy services. And then I make sure that they know about the Title IX office and how to file a complaint. So as long as they get to one of those people – because they may not know about the other things – then that person can explain those additional resources and options and how to contact them.

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