Transgender College Students
A Guide to Finding a Supportive School
J Mase III is a Black/trans/queer poet, educator, and consultant based in Seattle. As an educator, Mase has worked with community members in the U.S., U.K., and Canada on the needs of LGBTQIA youth in spaces such as K-12 schools, universities, faith communities, and restricted care facilities. He has consulted with institutions such as Princeton University and Metro State University. He is founder of awQward, the first trans and queer people of color talent agency. His work has been featured on MSNBC, Essence Live, Everyday Feminism, Black Girl Dangerous, New York Times, Buzzfeed, Root, Huffington Post, and more.
About one percent of American college students are transgender, yet they experience discrimination and harassment at much higher rates than most students. Trans students share the same hopes and dreams as any of their peers, yet access to basic services, safe spaces and typical college experiences lags far behind other student populations. This guide is designed to support trans students in learning about their rights, help them find colleges that affirm their value and empower them to fully embrace their gender identity.
What is the Campus Pride Index?
The Campus Pride Index is a comprehensive listing of 235+ colleges and universities that have LGBTQ-friendly policies, services and programs. Campus Pride began releasing this annual list in 2001; today, the index has grown to include specific rankings of trans-friendly institutions. Check out our guide to LGBTQ student resources to learn more.
Tips for Finding a Transgender-Friendly College
Campus Pride reported in 2013 that only about 10 percent of all American colleges and universities had non-discrimination policies that supported trans students. Progress has been made since then, but it’s still important for trans students to do some research when looking for a welcoming, inclusive campus.
Here are some policies and services trans students can look for that signal the institution’s commitment to being a supportive environment for all:
Look for inclusive restrooms in shared-bathroom dormitories, student life centers and throughout campus.
Gender discrimination policies
All students, regardless of sex, are protected from discrimination in schools under the federal Title IX law. Students who want to know more about their rights can review information provided by the National Center for Transgender Equality. Some institutions, such as American University, established individualized non-discrimination policies that further elaborate on the school’s support for the trans student community.
Student healthcare that covers transgender concerns
The American Medical Association has reported that treatment for gender dysphoria is medically necessary, yet many colleges still don’t provide comprehensive services to help students align their bodies to their gender identities. The University of Wisconsin’s University Health Services is a leading model in this area of support. The school began offering trans-inclusive medical and mental health services in 2012 and has steadily expanded services and campus locations where students can receive discrete, supportive care.
Take a look at Campus Pride’s list of 76 schools that cover transition-related medical expenses to get a better sense of schools worth researching.
LGBTQ student center
LGBTQ student centers provide many services to college students, both those who identify within this community and those who want to be allies. New York University has an active LGBTQ student center and provides examples of the services students should look for, such as an all-gender restroom map app, the safe zone certification process to create further visibility for trans students and regularly scheduled events.
Mental health center that has experience with transgender students
The Healthy Minds Study, a survey of more than 14,000 students on American college campuses, found that 40.6 percent of transgender student respondents considered attempting suicide in the last year, while 62.5 percent had experienced discrimination within the same time frame. Transgender students looking for comprehensive mental health services can find many colleges and universities with mental health professionals who have been trained on trans-specific counseling and psychological services. Columbia College provides an example of the types of services prospective students should expect to find.
Transgender student insurance policies
Inclusive schools that may not be able to provide comprehensive on-campus health services are working diligently to provide insurance policies for off-campus coverage. Duke University began offering $50,000 coverage policies in 2013 to help cover services such as counseling, hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. Many other schools are following suit to ensure all students receive the best care possible.
Training for faculty, staff and administrators
These are the people who interact in a professional capacity with transgender students the most, so training on how to properly serve and care for them is crucial. The University of Louisville’s LGBTQ Center provides regular workshops to help college employees learn about simple changes that can go a long way in making transgender students feel included and known. Examples include using appropriate names and pronouns, ensuring transgender perspectives are represented in course content and providing a statement of inclusion on the syllabus.
Student ID and email policies
When filling out college applications, some college students may not feel comfortable revealing information about their gender preferences to their families, yet still want to be recognized according to their gender identity on campus. Because of this, numerous universities make it possible for trans students to select the name used on their student ID card and email address once they arrive at school. It’s also possible for students to choose the name that appears on their diploma when graduation time rolls around.
Transgender student clubs and organizations
While general LGBTQ student groups are a good place to start, the most progressive and inclusive campuses often have student groups for specific communities. Organizations like the Pronoun Hoedown at the University of Chicago and the Coalition for Queer and Trans People of Color at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor provide events, community, awareness and training for allies throughout campus.
Accommodations or waivers for swim tests
Colleges and universities with swimming pools on campus often require students pass a swim test before being granted permission to use the facilities, but some schools are now making it possible for students to bypass this step on the grounds of religious observance or gender identity/expression. Check out Columbia College to learn more about this inclusive policy.
Scholarships for Transgender Students
Gender Odyssey makes it possible for transgender students to attend its annual conference in Seattle and gain the tools needed to engage their campus and community in a thoughtful exploration of gender.
Grand Rapids Trans Foundation
$500 to $2,500
This scholarship is awarded to any transgender student seeking a certificate or degree from a college, university or technical/vocational school with a presence in Kent County, Michigan. Funds will be awarded based on financial need.
The Jim Collins Foundation
50 to 100 percent of gender-affirming surgery
The Jim Collins Foundation, in an effort to ensure access to medically necessary transition medical services, offers this grant to individuals seeking funds to help cover their costs.
Trans Student Educational Resources
$500 to $2,000
TSER offers small scholarships to trans scholars seeking support to get through the school year and ramp up their activism activities.
Unitec Institute of Technology
$1,000 to $2,000
Unitec provides scholarships for full or part-time study at the Unitec institute, provided applicants plan to enroll for at least one year and identify as transgender.
Spotlight on Transgender-Friendly Campuses
Student population: 6,678
Campus Pride Index:
Ithaca College is actively working to ensure every student feels safe, welcome and wanted. The college offers both gender-inclusive housing and LGBTQ residence halls, and transgender students are encouraged to choose the best option for their individual needs. A speech pathology clinic opened in 2011 with the express purpose of assisting male-to-female and female-to-male transitioning students.
Student population: 43,301
Tuition: $53,016 (in-state), $165,072 (out-of-state)
Campus Pride Index:
More than 95 percent of all incoming freshmen live on campus at UCLA, and the school ensures each feels safe and comfortable by providing gender-affirming housing options. UCLA was also one of the first campuses to provide hormonal treatment and surgery coverage through their student health insurance. Other trans-friendly policies include gender-inclusive athletic facilities and more than 120 gender-neutral bathrooms. The school’s LGBTQ Resource Center developed a smart phone app to help students find these bathrooms all around campus.
Student population: 63,031
Tuition: $60,000 (in-state), $195,000 (out-of-state)
Campus Pride Index:
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was the first college in the country to create an LGBT Center in 1971. Today that pioneering spirit continues in areas of support and services for trans students. The Spectrum Center at UM was also the first in the nation to make it easy for trans students who chose to use a name other than their given one to do so. Other Trans@UM services include gender-inclusive housing and restrooms, health insurance, the comprehensive gender services program and Gender Explorers, a peer-led social support group for transgender, transsexual, genderqueer and TG-questioning students.
Transgender Students & College Athletics
As much emphasis has been placed on providing equal access and opportunity in academics, those same rights and opportunities must be present in college athletics for trans students to have a truly equitable experience. Proponents of transgender student-athletes recognize that diversity – including sexual orientation and gender identity – are strengths when it comes to sportsmanship and athleticism.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, an overarching body that oversees competition in 23 different sports at more than 1,000 colleges, has a number of policies in place to support trans students.
Here are some important things to know:
The organization does not require surgery or legal recognition that a player has transitioned in order for them to participate on teams that match their gender identity.
A recommended policy requires male-to-female transitioning students to complete at least one year of hormone treatments before they are able to compete on a female team.
Students assigned a female identity at birth are eligible to continue playing women’s sports until they start taking hormones and begin the physical transition.
Female-to-male students can receive a medical exception for Gender Identity Disorder that allows them to undertake testosterone treatment, but they may no longer play on a women’s team unless it’s moved to mixed team status.
Male-to-female transitioning students can receive the same medical waiver and continue to participate on a men’s team. They may not compete on a women’s team unless a) it’s changed to mix team status; or b) they have completed one year of testosterone suppression treatment.
Although many college athletic programs have made great strides in becoming more inclusive, here are some ways that college sport services can be improved for trans students:
Access to facilities
The use of locker rooms and bathrooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity are still not a given, and trans students still regularly encounter discrimination. TransAthlete is currently petitioning against discriminatory legislation at the college level.
Even if the university has a policy on gender discrimination, sports departments can create an additional affirmation of nondiscrimination to bolster trans student-athletes.
All student-athletes, regardless of gender identity or expression, should have access to proper healthcare for both everyday needs and for any injuries sustained while representing the school.
Coaches and other athletic administrative staff must ensure any discriminatory or transphobic behavior/language used by fans at sporting events is not condoned and, if possible, penalized.
Interview with J Mase III, Black/trans/queer poet, educator, and consultant
What do you think prevents so many trans young people from getting into college and staying there?
When you look at the rates of trans youth homelessness, lack of family support, failures of application documents, FASFA requirements and other forms of structural violence, we need to think about who should be on our campus, not just who is here now. The ones prevented from being on campus are the most vulnerable and there is a consistent story of the erasure of those young people. This is especially true for trans-feminine learners, particularly those of color.
What is your advice for students who face discrimination on campus?
Firstly, do what you need to survive. If that means picking your battles, do that. If that means you want to break things open and target the root of the problem, do that.
Get familiar with not just the policies regarding trans and gender non-conforming folks on your campus, ask questions about the application of it. Are you the only trans student experiencing this? Have there been more? What are the laws in your state/city? Are they protective or unjust?
Utilize social media networks if you need to. Tweet at news stations and media folks who are trans-competent. Try and create a media team of folks that will do some of this work with you (whether on your campus or not).
If you are getting harassed and/or put in a dangerous situation, know that you have a right to make noise. Remember that every LGBTQ center, every trans group, every cultural studies department on college and university campuses came about through protest. You do not have to be complacent because other people tell you to.
How can resources for trans students be strengthened, both on- and off-campus?
Because there is such a low percentage of trans students on college campuses, trans students need to be connected to trans communities on and off campus. As institutions, again, wrestling with the question of "why", we need to use our institutional access to pour resources into local trans groups and do some cross organizational building. We need to make trans students of all kinds an everyday occurrence and not a rarity.
Trans students also need ongoing possibility models in academic and professional settings. We need to do more outreach to potential trans staff and look at what areas we require to become a part of our community and discern how we may be discouraging trans applicants and the retention of trans/gnc staffers.
The organization I founded, awQward, does a lot of work to provide consulting, training and cultural opportunities that speak to trans issues on college campuses. Because of my experiences in school, this was extremely important to me. As someone who loves to learn, not seeing yourself reflected can change your academic capacity.
What advice do you have for transgender students who come out while in college?
Know that you know yourself better than any other person. You are the expert on what you need and how you want your transition to look. Your transition may include a name change. It may not. Your transition can include a wardrobe change, It may not. Your transition may include surgery. It may not. Do what feels authentic to you. And know that there is a whole world out there of folks who will and do support you in that.
Advocates for Youth
"I Think I May Be Transgender, Now What Do I Do?" is a helpful resource for youth who are exploring their gender identity. AY also offers stories from other transgender students.
Since 2001, Campus Pride has supported student leaders and campus groups working towards more inclusive and safer college environments for LGBTQ students.
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
In addition to advocating for the rights of LGBTQ students, GLAAD also provides a handy toolkit for individuals desiring to be an ally to transgender students.
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
GLSEN, a national leader in advocacy, provides a range of student, educator, policy and research resources for trans and gender non-conforming students.
GS works with families, organizations and institutions to provide education on the gender spectrum and work to evolve understandings of inclusivity.
National Center for Transgender Equality
In 2003, a group of transgender activists formed NCTE with the mission of achieving policy change in our nation’s laws. Today, the organization continues to provide social justice advocacy at the local, state and federal levels.
Refuge Restrooms allows transgender students to enter their location online or on an app to find the nearest gender-neutral bathroom.
The Trevor Project
Founded in 1998, The Trevor project exists to ensure LGBTQ youth aged 13 to 24 have access to crisis intervention and suicide prevention services.
Trans Athlete was founded with the simple mission of ensuring transgender student athletes have access to information about policies, guidelines, documents and research regarding transgender inclusion in sports.
Trans Student Educational Resources
TSER is a youth-led nonprofit working to transform the educational landscape through advocacy and empowerment initiatives.