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Ways that U.S. Colleges and Universities Meet the Day-to-Day Needs of Transgender Students

by Brett-Genny Janiczek Beemyn
for the Transgender Law and Policy Institute


Health Care

Most colleges and universities fail to meet the basic health-care needs of transgender students. Because campus health and counseling center staffs typically lack training on transgender issues, many practitioners are not sensitive to or knowledgeable about the medical needs of transgender students. Even transgender students who encounter respectful and informed health center staff often cannot receive proper medical treatment, as most college insurance plans specifically exclude coverage for gender confirmation surgeries and related conditions, including hormone replacement therapy. To begin to provide better services to transgender students, the health and counseling centers at Cornell University, New York University, Ohio State University, Princeton University, the University of California, Riverside, and a number of other colleges and universities require or strongly encourage their staffs to attend a training on transgender issues.

Some campus health centers are also implementing structural and procedural changes to create a more welcoming environment for transgender students. New York University, for example, has developed private changing rooms and gender-neutral bathrooms for patient use, offers women's health exams outside of women's health services in cases where students are not comfortable in a women's space, and allows for students to have their preferred name used on medical records and announced when they are seen for an appointment. These trans-inclusive practices are outlined in a brochure created by the university's Office of LGBT Student Services (available online at http://www.nyu.edu/lgbt/transbrochure.pdf).

Although more students are coming out as transsexual and seeking to transition during their college years, campuses have been slow to address their health-care needs by covering hormones and gender confirmation surgeries in health insurance plans. Only a few institutions, including Emerson College, Harvard University, Ohio State University, Penn State University, and Suffolk University, explicitly include hormone coverage for transitioning undergraduates. At some campuses, supportive physicians will provide transsexual students with a different diagnosis, such as an "endocrine deficiency," so that their insurance will pay for the cost. But students should not have to depend on finding a sympathetic doctor or have to hide their gender identities to receive appropriate, affordable health care. In 2004, the University of California system established an important precedent by changing its insurance plans to cover hormones, psychotherapy, and gender confirmation surgeries for its transsexual staff members and their spouses/domestic partners and children.


Residence Halls

Most colleges and universities assign housing based strictly on the individual's birth gender and have residence halls designated as single-sex by building and/or room. As a result, transgender students often lack safe and comfortable on-campus housing options. Schools are beginning to address this issue in a number of ways.

As a first step, some campuses are enacting a policy that supports transgender students in obtaining suitable, safe housing that is in keeping with their gender identity/expression. Ithaca College, Ohio State University, the University of California, Riverside, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin are among the institutions with model trans-related housing statements. The University of California, Riverside's policy is available at http://out.ucr.edu/campus/transpolicy.htm.

Besides implementing supportive policy statements, a growing number of colleges and universities are creating gender-neutral housing options, in which students are assigned a roommate regardless of gender. The type and extent of gender-neutral housing offered varies by campus, and may involve individual suites, a hallway or floor, particular buildings or areas of buildings, or the majority of residence halls. More than 25 colleges and universities offer a gender-neutral housing option, from large, public universities like the University of California, Riverside and the University of Southern Maine, to small, private liberal arts institutions like Bennington College and Oberlin College. A complete list of campuses with gender-neutral accommodations and the specific school policies is available from the National Student Genderblind Campaign: http://www.genderblind.org/research.pdf.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and ally (LGBTA) living-learning programs or theme floors/houses offer another trans-supportive housing option. These programs typically include gender-neutral rooms and bathrooms. More than a dozen colleges and universities have established LGBTA housing, including Beloit College; Carleton College; Syracuse University; Tufts University; the University of California at Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside, and Santa Barbara; the University of Colorado, Boulder; the University of Iowa; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and the University of Vermont.


Bathrooms

Because gender-diverse students are often subject to harassment and violence when using male- or female-specific campus restrooms, a rapidly growing number of colleges and universities are creating gender-neutral bathrooms, either through renovations or by simply changing the signs on single-stall male/female restrooms. Currently, more than 150 campuses have gender-neutral bathrooms, including Oberlin College, which has two gender-neutral bathrooms in its student union and at least one in every residence hall; the University of California, San Diego, which has changed male/female signs on 88 single-stall restrooms in campus buildings; and the New College of California, where all campus bathrooms are gender-neutral. Many of the colleges and universities with gender-neutral bathrooms, including New York University, Ohio University, UCLA, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, list the locations of these restrooms on their websites.

Along with developing gender-neutral restrooms, some institutions, such as American University, Kent State University, Ohio State University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Washington State University, have implemented or are in the process of implementing policies requiring that all extensively renovated and newly constructed buildings include at least one gender-neutral bathroom.

The University of Arizona has established a bathroom policy that affirms that individuals have the right to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The statement is available at http://fp.arizona.edu/affirm/restroomaccess.htm.


Locker Rooms

As with male and female bathrooms, public locker and shower rooms can be uncomfortable, intimidating, and even dangerous places for transgender students, who may be outed as transgender if they have to undress in front of others. Partly in response to this issue, a growing number of campuses, including Ohio State University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Oregon, have created private changing rooms when they have renovated or built new recreation centers. These facilities not only serve the needs of transgender students, but also parents with children of a different gender than themselves, people with disabilities who require the assistance of an attendant of a different gender, and anyone desiring greater privacy.


Forms

Having a "sex" category on forms that is limited to "Male" and "Female" makes transgender students feel disregarded, and with no means to identify themselves, they remain invisible to administrators and their needs continue to be overlooked. With these concerns in mind, some colleges and universities are changing forms in housing, admissions, health-care, and other areas of campus life where gender needs to be asked to enable transgender students to self-identify. For example, Oberlin College and the University of Hawaii ask "Gender: Male, Female, Transgender," and Tufts University and the University of Oregon ask "Gender: ________," on their housing applications. Duke University has students fill-in their gender on its admissions application.


Records and Documents

Being able to alter their records and documents is personally and legally important for many transgender students. Not only does having the appropriate name and gender listed reflect and validate their identity, but it can also allow them to avoid constantly having to explain why they use a name different from their birth name and why their appearance does not match a photo or gender designation on an identification card. Moreover, updated records and documents can ensure that transgender students will not be outed and will help protect them from discrimination when they apply for jobs, seek admission to graduate and professional schools, and at any other time that they must show a college document. Colleges and universities are addressing this issue by establishing simple procedures for transgender students to change their name and gender designation on all of their campus records, including identification cards, listings in electronic and print directories, and files in admissions, financial aid, the registrar's office, and the health center.

At the University of Utah and the University of Oregon, transgender students can change the gender designation on their main college record without evidence that they have had gender confirmation surgeries (GCS). Not requiring medical intervention is important, as most transitioning students are not in a position to have GCS, even if they desire it. At Ohio State University and the University of Maryland, transgender students can change the gender listed on their records by obtaining a letter of support from a mental health professional.

At the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, students can request that a preferred name be used instead of their legal name on course rosters and in various university information systems. Students do not need to have their name legally changed first. An FAQ about the University of Michigan policy can be found at http://www.umich.edu/%7Epolicies/preferrednamesFAQ.html.

At the University of Vermont, transgender students who are not yet able to change their name legally can still request an identification card with a name other than their birth name. Transgender students at American University and the University of Illinois, Chicago can request a new ID at no cost that has a gender-appropriate picture and that uses only their last name and the initial of their first name.


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