Transgender College Student Guide
Despite the many advancements made by progressive colleges and universities in the last decade, trans students continue to experience higher-than-usual rates of discrimination and inequitable experiences. In fact, more than 40 percent of trans students reported feeling isolated from campus life during the previous academic year. This guide will help students find answers and resources for common issues experienced on campus while also empowering them to stand up for themselves and know their rights.
Resources for Transgender College Students
- Counseling Centers
Transgender students have an alarming rate of mental health issues tied in with discrimination and hate speech, but campus counselors can help. Other mental health services may include gender identity exploration, adjusting to new social identities or negotiating how to come out to friends or family.
- Health Centers
Campus health centers can provide services such as chest/breast and pelvic exams, STI testing, hormone therapy and gender-affirming procedures.
- LGBTQ Centers
Resources at LGBTQ campus centers are wide-ranging, including workshops for staff, student clubs, events and activism opportunities. Brown University is just one of hundreds of examples of LGBTQ Centers.
- Residence Life
Schools with the highest Campus Pride ratings understand the value of gender-inclusive and gender-neutral dormitories that provide trans students with safe and welcoming living spaces.
- Student Organizations
The University of Chicago provides a good example of the types of embracing and empowering trans student groups to look for on college campuses.
IN YOUR COMMUNITY
This nonprofit organization provides a national listing of LGBT community services and other trans resources that college students can take advantage of.
- Gender Alliance Organizations
Southern Arizona Gender Alliance is a model for local support and advocacy groups looking to provide meaningful resources to trans students, including change of ID, medical and mental health services and a range of support groups.
- LGBTQ Community Centers
NYC’s The Center is one example of a comprehensive, ever-expanding community resource providing events, career services, health programs, arts and culture activities, and services for trans college students.
- Pee in Peace
PiP, an app designed for helping transgender individuals find gender-neutral bathrooms in Ithaca, New York, is just one example of local community resources that can make a difference.
- Local Political Groups
Trans students with a passion for politics and public advocacy may be able to find a group similar to the massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, a dynamic policy organization fighting for local, state and federal trans inclusion.
- Gender Spectrum
Creating gender-sensitive and inclusive classrooms for trans children and teens is at the heart of Gender Spectrum’s mission.
- National Center for Transgender Equality
NTCE is a national nonprofit providing information and empowering services to trans students. Examples include details on updating ID documents, knowing your rights as a transgender individual and discussions of common issues encountered.
Numerous rules governing trans students’ eligibility to play on single sex teams are mandated by the NCAA, and Trans Athlete provides all those details and more.
- Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund
Trans students looking to understand their rights or receive legal counsel can turn to TLDEF for discrete services.
- Trans Student Educational Resources
TSER provides a range of resources for both trans students and faculty/administrators looking to learn more about creating inclusive classrooms.
Aydian Dowling is a twenty-something trans man who was the first to hold the cover of Men’s Health Magazine. Aydian has been featured on Ellen DeGeneres’s television show and currently has nearly 150,000 followers.
This Instagram account has more than 97,000 followers and aims to feature beautiful and strong trans women.
Trans awareness week takes place each November and offers trans students the chance to interact with others in their community via social media platforms.
- Brendan Jordan YouTube
Brendan Jordan is a gender fluid YouTuber who tackles topics that are relevant to teenage and twenty-something trans students.
- NCTE Blog
The National Center for Transgender Equality maintains an active blog where students can learn about trans topic within higher education and beyond.
What is the Campus Pride Index?
The Campus Pride Index was started in 2007 as a way to create a benchmark for schools working to be more inclusive and supportive of LGBTQ students. Released annually, it details the policies, programs and practices at LGBTQ-friendly schools that are making a difference. CPI began releasing an annual index of the most trans-inclusive schools in recent years to help prospective students from this community narrow their options. Learn more on our.
LGBTQ Student Resources Guide
Campus Concerns for Trans Students
Any college or university that receives Title IX federal funding is prohibited from discriminating against students on the basis of sex or gender identity. Some of the rights included under this provision range from choosing gender-appropriate accommodations on campus to using restrooms or locker rooms that correspond to the student’s gender identity.
Private colleges that receive no federal funds may have more discrimination policies, but this isn’t always the case. Trans students considering a private school should check with the admissions department and if possible, the LGBTQ Center, to learn about their specific rights.
Here are some issues that trans students should explore before applying to any college:
Using Your Preferred Name
Trans students may not be comfortable discussing gender identity with their families, but that doesn’t mean they want to be known by their legal name when they reach campus. The problem is that formally changing a name outside of a new legal family status (e.g. marriage, divorce, etc.) can take lots of time and hundreds of dollars – both of which students may not have easy access to.
Many colleges and universities now allow trans and genderqueer students to use preferred names as a way of embracing their gender identity. Campus in-name policies, as they are often known, are becoming exceedingly common these days – particularly at Title IX-funded schools.
See the list of 163 schools that allow students to choose their name once they reach college on Campus Pride.
The Rhode Island School of Design provides an excellent framework for students to understand what they should be looking for in a prospective school while also offering a good model for schools that want to incorporate this non-discriminatory policy. According to RISD policy, students may change their campus in-use name so long as their reason is not for the purpose of misrepresentation.
The school’s long-term goal is to ensure that preferred names are incorporated into all facets of campus – ranging from names used by professors to the student’s official university email address. There are, however, a few places where the student’s given name is legally mandated. These include:
- External reporting systems
- Official transcripts
- Certification programs
- Financial aid and/or student accounts
- Student employment payroll and tax documents
- Federal immigration documents
The majority of schools now allow students to make these changes once they’ve matriculated, both as a way of providing discrete services to those who are not out to their parents and to allow students to acclimate. Once settled in, students can work with their student services department to fill out the appropriate forms that signal to various campus communities their needs.
Using Your Preferred Gender
Knowing that peers and professors recognize their true identity is a significant factor in transgender students feeling welcome and known at college. Preferred gender pronouns are a hot topic within the trans student community as many colleges still don’t have policies or rules in place to help students convey how they wish to be known to the school community. Schools that don’t have such policies can leave trans students feeling unknown, disrespected and alienated.
The University of California recently introduced a larger range of gender identity choices on its application, allowing students to select the option that best matched their gender preferences. Choices on UC’s new student application include:
- Trans male / trans man
- Trans female / trans woman
- Genderqueer / gender non-conforming
- Different identity
Stepping away from gender binary forms not only signals to prospective students a desire to be inclusive and welcoming, it also signals to the entire learning community that no disrespect to this population will be tolerated.
Another way schools can support and empower trans students is by educating the rest of the school about the proper use of pronouns. Ohio University provides a comprehensive guide about preferred gender pronouns to help staff and students use appropriate language. In addition to exploring commonly used pronouns such as she/her/hers and he/him/his, the guide also looks at a few sets of gender-neutral pronouns that may be appropriate. They/them/theirs is one option, while ze/hir can be used to replace her/hers/him/his/they/their pronouns.
Using a Preferred Restroom
Although gender-neutral restrooms are currently up for debate within many state legislatures, colleges receiving Title IX funding must provide inclusive restrooms that can be used by any student with a gender identity outside the one assigned to them at birth. Many private schools are also moving toward more comprehensive policies in these areas, as evidenced by Yale University’s 2016 decision to introduce gender-neutral bathrooms. Hundreds of schools throughout the country are working to serve trans students well by modifying sex-specific bathrooms and introducing ample gender-inclusive restrooms throughout campus.
Trans students can typically find an all-gender restroom map on either the school website or that of the LGBTQ Center. If unavailable, students may consider working with administrators to develop a map for their peers. Some schools, such as New York University, have developed smartphone and tablet apps to help students find the bathrooms nearest to them at any point on campus.
Colleges and universities looking to introduce all-gender bathrooms should keep a few things in mind when doing so. These include:
Before hanging a sign on any restroom, consider the implications of the wording used. The goal of trans-friendly bathrooms is to be inclusive, and phrases such as “all-gender restroom” convey that point much more clearly than just “restroom”.
The traditional male/female stick figure sign found on restroom doors excludes trans people who do not identify as gender binary, as do the half-male/half-female signs which denote a gender identity somewhere between male and female. Campus Pride suggests that, outside of a wheelchair accessible symbol, the only other appropriate option is an image of a toilet.
All restrooms should be accessible not only to all gender identities, but also to individuals who need wheelchair facilities, changing tables or Braille text.
- Individual bathrooms.
If offering single-stall facilities, these spaces should be made gender inclusive by removing urinals and providing a simple toilet. The signage should also be written as “all-gender restroom”.
Getting Housing According to Your Preferred Gender
A report by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that, of students who identified as transgender or gender-nonconforming, 78 percent experienced harassment, 35 percent experienced physical assault and 12 percent encountered sexual violence. Because of these high numbers, nearly one in six (15 percent) left school.
Providing safe, gender-inclusive housing is an important way for colleges and universities to ensure that students have a place on campus where they are accepted and respected. Campus Pride Index reports that more than 210 schools in America currently provide gender-inclusive housing, including both public and private institutions.
Different schools offer different options, but most include many of the traditional housing options (e.g. dormitories, single rooms, apartment-style) with the express purpose of providing safe and welcome living quarters. The goal in providing gender-neutral housing isn’t to separate trans or genderqueer students from the rest of campus, but rather to ensure they can come home from classes at the end of each day and feel comfortable and supported by their school.
Prospective students should speak to the director of housing to find out how gender-neutral housing is offered and managed before accepting any offer letter.
Participating in Campus Athletics
While much discussion has taken place in recent years about whether or not trans students should be allowed to participate on single-sex teams aligned to their gender identity rather than the sex assigned at birth, the National Collegiate Athletic Associate has specific rules in place to protect trans student-athletes from discrimination on the courts and in the locker rooms. The NCAA’s Office of Inclusion, which oversees 23 different sports played at more than 1,000 colleges and universities throughout the country, outlined a series of guidelines that NCAA-affiliated schools must follow to maintain their membership.
- Female-to-male athletes can receive medical exceptions for testosterone treatment if they have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, gender dysphoria or transsexualism. These student athletes must be allowed to compete on men’s sports teams, but their participation on a women’s team requires a change to mixed team status.
- Female-to-male athletes who are not taking testosterone may play on men’s or women’s teams without changing the status of the team.
- Male-to-female athletes receiving testosterone suppression medication due to a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder, gender dysphoria or transsexualism can continue competing on a male team, but a women’s team must be changed to mixed team status if they are added to the roster. Once one year of testosterone suppression treatment has been completed, they may play on a women’s team.
- Male-to-female athletes who are not taking hormone treatments are not allowed to play on women’s teams.
In addition to following NCAA rulings, some colleges and universities have implemented additional policies to ensure trans student-athletes not only have the chance to play, but also feel safe, empowered, and championed in their chosen sport. Examples include:
- Providing access to locker rooms and bathrooms.
Trans student athletes should have access to restrooms, locker rooms and showers offering privacy before and after any game.
- Medical insurance.
In addition to general health services provided on campus, trans students must receive the same type of medical care as their teammates for any injuries sustained during play.
- Pronoun usage.
All coaches, support staff and teammates should abide by the preferred gender pronouns selected by the student-athlete. These pronouns should be used in any team rosters or live announcements of the game.
- Hotel accommodations.
For away games, trans athletes should be provided with rooms based on their gender identity – either by sharing a room with other players or being provided a private room.
- Dress codes.
No student athlete, regardless of gender identity or expression, should be required to wear a team uniform that goes against their preferred identity.
All medical records and information must be kept confidential, regardless of a student’s gender, sex, or gender identity.
Getting Access to Trans-Friendly Healthcare
Student Health Insurance Plans, or SHIPs, ensure students – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – receive the services and care they need to thrive. The American Psychological Association has deemed gender transition treatments and surgery as medically necessary in some cases, particularly when students are diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, gender dysphoria or transsexualism. Yet not all colleges provide access to treatment plans and medical providers.
SHIP coverage varies by plan, so students need to do their research to find schools that either provide appropriate care or maintain relationships with off-campus health providers. Some schools, such as Duke University and U.C. Berkeley, provide additional coverage and services for trans students. Even if a school doesn’t have campus-based services, however, that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective advocates for medical coverage.
Finding doctors and other medical professionals who are both sensitive to and trained in specific trans heath concerns isn’t always easy, but trans students have numerous resources at their disposal to aid in the search.
- LGBTQ Center.
If your campus has an LGBTQ Center, make an appointment to meet with a staff member or ask for a list of trans-friendly medical providers in the area.
- Health Center.
Even if your campus health center can’t offer the full range of needed services, find out if they can provide a referral to a trans-inclusive clinic.
MTH is a database of trans-friendly clinics and doctors throughout the United States. Students can enter their gender identity, location and the type of care they need access to and MTH will provide a list of competent and compassionate providers.
- Rad Remedy.
Similar to Mytranshealth, Rad Remedy provides a database of trans-friendly health providers throughout America. The site is still in beta testing, but many functions are already available.
- Trans Health
Trans Health maintains a regularly updated list of trans health clinics throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Coming Out on Campus
Coming out as transgender while in college can be a daunting experience, and it is always up to the individual to decide when to share this very personal information. Some transgender students may arrive at college having previously already come out in high school or to friends and family members. While for others college may be the first time they acknowledge their gender expression publicly. Some trans students may decide they want to keep their gender identity private.
Students at trans-friendly schools often have many resources and support systems at their disposal as they navigate this experience. The University of Missouri hosts an annual Coming Out Week, a campus-wide celebration of identity punctuated with events, discussions and programs. Other schools, such as the University of Minnesota, provide a comprehensive Coming Out 101 that gives students talking points when discussing roommates, classmates or coworkers.
College campuses, local communities and the internet are filled with valuable resources to help make the process of coming out a safe and celebratory experience. Some examples include:
- Coming Out As A Transgender Person: A Workbook
The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Transgender Ministry put together this helpful guide for students going through the process of coming out.
- How To Come Out On Campus
Campus Pride offers exhaustive guidance on coming out as trans in college, including support systems or resources to have in place when starting the process.
- I Think I Might Be Transgender, Now What Do I Do?
Provided by Advocates for Youth, this guide was put together by and for transgender youth who are identifying their gender expression. It also includes stories from others who have gone through the process.
- The Out Student Leader’s Agenda
Now that you’ve come out, how can you use your voice and skills to be an advocate for those who haven’t? Campus Pride has the answer to this and more.
What to Do if You Face Discrimination
The Healthy Minds Study found that 65.2 percent of transgender college students experienced discrimination during the 2015-2016 school year. Transgender students experience negative behaviors and reactions at alarmingly higher rates, so it’s important for them to both know their rights and know where they can find supportive and protective resources.
Title IX, the federal law protecting all students from sex discrimination, provides specific protections for trans and gender non-conforming students:
- All students have the right to be treated in accordance with the gender to which they identify.
- Schools cannot require students to provide legal and/or medical evidence in order to be treated in accordance to their identified gender.
- Students have the right to use a preferred name and preferred pronoun aligned to their gender identity.
- School administrators must take immediate action on any harassing or bullying behavior due to transgender or non-conforming gender discrimination.
- All students must have access to equitable educational opportunities, regardless of gender identity or expression.
- Schools may not penalize or discipline any student who dresses and presents in a way that is consistent with their gender identity and expression.
- Students cannot be forced to use separate facilities, and have the right to access bathrooms, locker rooms, showers and other facilities that are consistent with their gender identity and expression.
- Information regarding a student’s gender identity must be kept private unless express permission to share is given directly by the student.
- Students have the right to form or join gay-straight alliances or pride alliances and these groups must be treated in the same way as any other student group.
Resources available to students experiencing discrimination or wanting to learn more about their rights can be found at:
Interview with Andy Cofino, Program Coordinator for the Princeton University LGBT Center
How can administrators and faculty best support trans students in their collegiate experience?
Administrators and faculty can best support trans students first by listening and respecting them. They can do so by offering space for students and colleagues to share the pronouns and names they go by, for example, and then, most importantly, using those names and pronouns. Administrators and faculty can model this practice by first offering their own pronouns and names during introductions, which gives students agency and permission to share their own if they choose to do so.
It is important to never force students to share pronouns, as they may not feel safe, but rather to leave the option open. In a meeting, for example, an administrator could begin by offering their own pronouns and then invite participants to share pronouns as well if they would like to do so.
Administrators and faculty can also educate themselves more about trans identities and experiences by connecting with their local, regional, or campus LGBT Center, attending a professional development training or conference and reading books and articles by trans people. Two great resources are the Suggested Best Practices for Supporting Trans Students document and the Recommendations for Supporting Trans and Queer Students of Color document from the National Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
What is your advice to trans students that attend a college with some provisions for them (e.g. gender-neutral bathrooms and housing, preferred pronoun usage), but still lack full inclusion? How can they make a difference?
Some trans students want to be involved with advocacy on campus about gender identity and expression and some do not. I would encourage trans students to explore what they’re passionate about and use their passions to guide their experiences in college and in life. If they are passionate about advocacy around gender identity/expression, then they can definitely make a significant impact in college.
Students often don’t realize they have a powerful voice on college campuses and their organizing and actions can lead to real change. If there are areas of deficit when it comes to trans inclusion, students can call attention to their concerns through building coalitions with other student organizers, meeting with campus administrators, writing about their concerns in the student and local newspaper and using social media to raise awareness. Every campus has a different context, so it’s important students try different strategies and be persistent.
Trans students face staggering amounts of discrimination and harassment, even in traditionally liberal settings such as colleges. Where should these students turn when faced with inappropriate behavior from fellow students or staff?
Students should seek support from mentors and administrative staff to help them get the resources they need and deserve. If students have access to a local, regional or campus LGBT Center, they are often the best place to go for support. If their campus has an LGBT Center, it is likely staffed with graduate or administrative staff whose purpose is to serve queer and trans students, especially by helping them navigate through experiences of discrimination and harassment.
Students should also look into their university and statewide non-discrimination policies to confirm they include gender identity/expression as a protected identity. If students do experience discrimination or harassment, it is important to note that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was demonstrated again recently by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
What is your advice to students planning to come out at college?
First, students must decide for themselves if coming out is the right choice for them. Sometimes it is not in their best interest to come out due to safety or lack of financial or familial support. It is essential to have a safety net before coming out. Unfortunately, the myth that everyone must come out and do so quickly can lead to some students coming out before they are ready or have the resources (financial or emotional) to take care of themselves if it does not go well.
If a student decides they would like to come out and are able to do so safely, I suggest they explore and define what expectations they would like to set with those with whom they are coming out. Is there a different name or set/s of pronouns they’d like their friends and family to use? Are there certain settings in which they want to be out and others in which they do not? Would they like help or assistance in accessing resources, such as healthcare or legal name/gender changes?
It could be as simple as wanting a hug or a conversation to process their feelings, but it’s helpful to know what you may need before going into the conversation. It is up to each individual to explore and understand their needs in the coming out process and then communicate them to others in order to get the support that feels good and healthy to them specifically.