Finding Trans-Inclusive Colleges/Universities for Your Child
Having a child go off to college is a stressful and exciting experience for families. Questions and worries may be swirling in the back of your mind as you see the taillights to the fully packed car or the backend of a suitcase being pulled down the walkway of an airport terminal. For families that have a transgender child, the questions and worries may be escalated simply because you are uncertain of how they will be supported on their campus and in the classroom. To try and help ease some of the worries that you may have for your transgender child, it is helpful to search for colleges and universities that have a track record of being trans-inclusive. In this article, I will provide families and transgender individuals examples of what to look for when searching/applying to colleges and universities.
When choosing which schools to apply to, it may be helpful to first visit the website CampusPride.Org to see which colleges and universities are ranked on the Campus Pride Index (a national LGBTQ-friendly benchmarking tool). Keep in mind, that while some places may rank high for being LGB-friendly, they may still be behind in their trans-inclusive policies. To have a better sense of where a college or university sits surrounding trans-inclusion, take the next step on Campus Pride’s website and visit their Campus Pride Trans Policy Clearinghouse at CampusPride.Org/TPC. On this site, you can see which colleges and universities have inclusion policies on the following topics:
- Nondiscrimination policies
- Covered transition-related medical expenses
- Gender-inclusive housing
- Name and gender change policies
- Intramural sports policies
- Identity questions and options on admissions and enrollment forms
- and Trans-inclusive women’s colleges.
From there, the next steps are identifying which colleges or universities you are interested in, and what feelings you get from the campus. This can be done by first visiting the campus website, speaking to campus staff in residence life, student affairs, admissions, and health and wellness, and finally by scheduling a campus visit.
Below is more detail regarding what to look for on a campus website and during a campus visit.
Go to that campus website and look to see if they support transgender students. First look at the campus nondiscrimination policy and note whether the policy includes gender identity and gender expression. In my professional trainings, I inform campuses that the nondiscrimination policy is the foundation for which they can build further inclusion. Next, look to see if they have a LGBTQ resource center, and if so, if they have paid staff running the center or if it is volunteer based. A campus that has a resource center with paid staff is a sign that they are more equipped to support LGBTQ students and employees. These centers and staff also provide more opportunities for the campus to have LGBTQ programming and advisors for LGBTQ student organizations. If it is hard to find this info, try searching the site by entering “LGBTQ” or to be more specific, enter “transgender” in the search field. Look to see what information comes up on these topics. If there is nothing that comes up, this is not a good sign as it indicates that conversations and programming are not happening on that campus.
Call up the campus and ask to speak to residence life about your child. Ask them if they have gender-neutral housing and what that housing looks like. Other questions to ask include:
- Is gender-neutral housing available for first-year students?
- Does it cost more to live in gender-neutral housing?
- Are there gender neutral restroom and shower facilities on the floor?
If the answer is “no” to one, or all, of these questions, then ask the staff how they would accommodate your child. Some campuses work case-by-case when it comes to housing and will have answers readily available for you. If the staff does not have answers, and is having a hard time pointing you to someone that does, then it may be a sign that this campus will be harder to navigate for your child. Ask them if they are willing to look at their policies and if they have any future plans to have training on this topic.
If your child hasn’t legally changed their name or gender marker, then it is important to see if the campus is set up to allow students to use their name and pronoun that is different from legal name and pronoun to affirm the student and their identity and to also potentially decrease incidents of harassment and discrimination. Ask them if your child’s name, pronoun and gender can be used on all documentation if they have not been legally changed. Documentation includes their Student ID, Class Rosters, Admissions and Records. If the person you speak to says they cannot enter a student’s name that is different from their legal name, ask them why. Most likely, the response will be related to the software system that the campus is using. Many software systems are changing entry fields to accommodate names different from a person’s legal name. Ask them if they can look into whether their software system is providing this update.
Health, Wellness and Recreation Centers:
Health, wellness and recreation are important parts of maintaining a person’s well-being. For transgender students, there is often concern about how they will be treated at health and wellness centers and if they will feel comfortable at a recreation center. If your insurance doesn’t cover transition-related care, check to see if the campus offers trans-inclusive student health insurance. If they do, look to see what all is included in their student benefits and if there are limitations or financial caps on what is covered. Next, inquire about medical and mental health staff knowledge on working with transgender patients. If they do not have providers that work with transgender patients, do they have a resource network in the community, and if so, are those providers covered underneath the insurance plan you are using? Lastly, if there is a pharmacy on campus, can students access hormone therapy there, and if not, are there other options in the community?
When touring the recreation facility, inquire about their intramural sports policy. Is it inclusive toward transgender students, allowing them to play on the team that aligns with their gender identity? If not, what is their policy for transgender students and team sports? Also, take note of the infrastructure of the facility. Are there locker rooms and restroom facilities that a transgender student will feel comfortable using?
If you go on a campus tour, look to see where the gender-neutral restrooms are located. Ideally, each building will have gender-neutral restrooms, but in many situations, gender-neutral restroom availability is lacking. Some campuses will provide maps that show where on campus a person can access gender-neutral restrooms. Other campuses are more technologically savvy and may even have an app for smart phones that provides info on where gender-neutral restrooms are on the campus.
While the school you choose may not have checkmarks next to everything that I’ve listed, assess how the campus and staff interacted with you and your child. If you feel they are aware of where there are barriers and are willing and able to work with you and your child to create a safe and inclusive campus, you are in a better position than going with a college or university that is still struggling to even get gender identity and inclusion added to their nondiscrimination policy.
I’ve trained colleges and universities around the nation on this topic, and feel confident that we’ll continue to see campuses break down the barriers that transgender students face (some faster than others). In the meantime, having parent(s)/guardians, that support their transgender children, advocate for change by asking the questions I’ve posted will keep this topic in front of staff and administration.
This article is part of Ryan’s new “I Support You” Campaign. With the shift of our nation’s political climate, now more than ever, we need to continue to raise awareness and visibility, while also supporting one another. Learn more about the campaign.