by Chelsea M. Cogan, MA
As we approach another school year, many individuals are gearing up to begin their educations on college campuses across the world. There are a great deal of unknowns involved in attending school that can produce stress. For the average college student, this is one of the first times they are responsible for the bulk of their choices and navigating life on their own. The majority of these students do not arrive on college campus with concerns about how their gender identity will be perceived, what bathroom they will use, what dormitory housing they will be assigned to, and whether or not professors will use their preferred pronouns and name. However, these are just some of the additional stressors that transgender and gender diverse students experience when making the decision to attend college.
Trans individuals experience harassment, discrimination and violence at dramatically higher rates than their cisgender counterparts (Langenderfer-Magruder, Whitfield, Walls, Kattari, & Ramos, 2016). These experiences can begin in grade school and occur in higher education settings as well (James, Herman, Rankin, Keisling, Mottet, & Anafi, 2016). Trans students in higher education report high rates of harassment and discrimination by other students, professors and campus staff, with 24-35% of individuals endorsing these experiences (Goldberg, 2018). Furthermore, 16% of trans individuals report that this harassment and discrimination is so severe they have left school as a result of it (James et al., 2016). These experiences can have devastating effects beyond leaving school, including increased substance use and suicide risk (Seelman, 2016). Of the individuals who reported being victimized, 51% had attempted suicide as a result of the victimization (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, Herman, & Keisling, 2011).
Given the link between experiences of harassment, discrimination, and violence and suicide risk within this population, research has begun to examine modifiable factors that college campuses can address to decrease this risk. In an analysis of trans college students including demographic variables, campus factors and interpersonal victimization variables, Seelman (2016) found that those denied access to campus bathrooms due to being trans were 1.32 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who had not been denied access to bathrooms. Additionally, trans students who had been denied access to gender-appropriate housing were 1.54 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who had not been denied access to gender-appropriate housing. Furthermore, Seelman found that trans individuals of color were 1.25 times more likely to have attempted suicide while in school than white trans individuals. Finally, when considering the role of interpersonal victimization (e.g., harassment, discrimination, violence), trans individuals who reported experiences of interpersonal victimization were 1.36 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who had not experienced victimization. These numbers, and what they mean for the individuals who are experiencing these events, are overwhelming. However, it is something that every person on a college campus has the ability to do something about. Even as students ourselves, we can influence campus administrations to make critical changes to promote inclusivity of every single person who is on campus.
So what can we do about this? Based on the growing body of research in this area, some experts within the field have identified potential areas of intervention. This list is not exhaustive, and as with anything, it is possible that this will change as we continue to learn how best to cultivate a truly inclusive environment. However, it is my hope that this will provide those reading this with a jumping-off point for taking action and making real changes to promote inclusivity. The following list of areas to intervene was compiled by Goldberg (2018) for the Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law based on existing research. The suggestions have been summarized here, but please see the full publication for a more in depth review of these suggestions.
- Create policies and protections for trans students on campus. These policies should explicitly include gender identity as a protected category. Furthermore, it is important that these policies are available broadly across the campus.
- Include gender identity and experiences in curricula. All faculty should work to incorporate various gender identities and gender experiences within their curricula.
- Student training on gender diversity. Students should have the opportunity to engage in trainings related to gender-identity to increase their understanding and acceptance of gender diversity. These trainings should include information on trans affirming and inclusive language.
- Faculty and staff trainings on gender diversity. All faculty and staff on college campuses should receive trainings on how to best be a trans ally and promote an inclusive environment on campus. Additionally, these trainings should include a review of trans-inclusive language.
- Name, gender and pronouns. Trans students should be able to select their preferred name as opposed to their legal name on campus records. This includes on ID cards, email addresses, class rosters, etc. Additionally, students should have the ability to select their gender on campus documents. The gender options should be inclusive and not simply male/female.
- Review all campus documents, forms and records for the gender binary. All documents, forms, and records utilized by the college/university should be reviewed for use of gender diverse-inclusive language. Places where gender diverse-inclusive language could be used should be updated.
- Restrooms. Existing restrooms on campus should be reviewed, and a large proportion should be changed to be gender-inclusive if they are not already. Any new buildings on campus should include plans for single-stall and/or gender-inclusive restrooms. Campuses should also develop a map of all gender-inclusive and/or single stall restrooms on campus that is easily accessible to the student body.
- Housing. Trans-inclusive/accommodating campus housing should be developed. This can include allowing trans students to pursue housing that is in line with their gender identity, having housing applications ask who individuals would like to room with (gender-diverse options should be provided), and affordable single-occupancy rooms should be available for those who do not want a roommate.
- Trans-inclusive counseling and health care on campus. All providers of health care on campus should be trained on trans-inclusive/affirming practices and aware of local resources available to these students. Campus health insurance coverage should be inclusive of the needs of trans students.
- Trans-specific spaces. Campuses should make efforts to increase the available resources and spaces for trans students. Research has found that existing LGBTQ+ spaces are typically predominantly accessed by white individuals, which demonstrates the importance of creating space for trans people of color. This demonstrates the importance of creating multiple trans-specific spaces available on campus, allowing for each individual to find the space they feel most comfortable in.
As stated earlier, this list is by no means exhaustive and will likely continue to evolve as research continues in this area. However, this provides a way to examine the existing structure of your campus and identify places where your campus can make changes. It is the right of every student to feel comfortable and safe on their campus, which means that promoting trans inclusivity is everyone’s responsibility.
About the Author:
Chelsea M. Cogan, MA,
(she/her/hers) is a fifth-year clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Tulsa in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Student Section for ISTSS. Her research interests include trauma, PTSD, sleep disturbance and suicidality in a number of populations. Additionally, she is interested in modifications of existing evidence based psychotherapies to improve treatment outcomes.
Goldberg, A. (2018). Transgender students in higher education.
Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.
Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Retrieved from http://transequality.org/PDFs/NTDS_Report.pdf
James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey
. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
Langenderfer-Magruder, L., Whitfield, D. L., Walls, N. E., Kattari, S. K., & Ramos, D. (2016). Experiences of intimate partner violence and subsequent police reporting among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer adults in Colorado: Comparing rates of cisgender and transgender victimization. Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Seelman, K. L. (2016). Transgender adults’ access to college bathrooms and housing and the relationship to suicidality. Journal of Homosexuality