For transgender, genderqueer, and otherwise gender-nonconforming students (referred to as a whole as trans* students in this article), choosing a college that caters to your needs is of the utmost importance. These needs range from nominal policies to social attitudes to concrete physical facilities:
Seeing if a college includes gender identity and expression in its nondiscrimination policies is the most basic of the factors to consider when looking for trans*-friendly institutions. While this is an important thing to note, nondiscrimination policies alone might not reflect the actual attitudes of faculty, staff, and students at the college, so look to the factors below to make an even more informed decision.
The University of Michigan was the first institution of higher education in the country to make it easy for students to use a preferred name instead of their legal name on campus records, but many colleges and universities have since followed suit. Google the college’s name along with “preferred name” or a similar keyword to find out about its naming policies.
Another good litmus test for the trans-friendliness of a college is going through the website and looking through forms that require students to fill in their gender. Is the “gender” slot a fill-in-the-blank? If it has check boxes, are there alternatives to “male” and “female”, and/or an “other” option?
The housing questionnaire is a telltale sign of whether a college is trans*-friendly. See if you can acquire a copy from a current student or ask the institution’s housing office if their questionnaire includes gender-inclusive housing options, including allowing students of all genders to room together and allowing transgender students to live with students of the gender they identify with.
Bathrooms on residential halls and restrooms and locker rooms around campus are also good indicators of how accommodating a university is of gender-nonconforming students. If the institution has at least some dorms with all-gender bathrooms, along with all-gender and/or single-stall restrooms in most or all buildings on campus, it’s a good bet that it also has other policies that cater to trans* students.
These policies include very important medical considerations, such as whether the school’s insurance plan covers hormone therapy and surgeries for transitioning students. Of course, if your family already has its own perfectly good insurance, this isn’t as crucial, but for many students, college health insurance is the only way to go. Another important factor to look for is whether the college has mental health care geared specifically towards trans* students, and if it doesn’t, whether external mental health services are also covered under the college’s insurance plan.
This is a harder category to find out concrete information about, but try and find out through Campus Pride, other college review sites, college forums, and current students whether the student body is generally educated about trans* issues and not transphobic. An indicator of this might be the measures taken to include gender-nonconforming students in sports, which are an area usually divided into teams of binary genders, as well as whether there are organizations specific to trans* students, or on smaller campuses, at least LGBTQ groups that demonstrate strong evidence of being trans*-friendly.
Aside from the students, another key part of any campus community is the administration. Does the President’s Office, Dean’s Office, or at least the LGBTQ center sponsor trans*-related events or trans* ally training workshops? Does the college even have a LGBTQ center?
The final piece that makes up the university community triangle is the faculty. Does the college offer a gender studies program? If it doesn’t, are there at least classes offered that deal with gender beyond the study of feminism? See if you can get in touch with a current student who might also be able to inform you about the general attitudes of faculty towards gender-nonconforming students. While faculty attitudes might not seem as important — after all, they’re just there to teach you about the specific subject you’re learning — it can still be frustrating and demoralizing to be called by the wrong name or referred to by the wrong pronouns by an ignorant or unsympathetic professor.
Finally, even the friendliest college might be in an area that is limited in the medical resources that transitioning students might need, lacking in specialized mental health services, or home to a population that is hostile to gender-nonconforming people. Unless your heart is set on some college that is perfect in every way except for its location in a transphobic town, sticking to urban areas and known liberal hotbeds is probably your best bet.
Have any more ideas about what trans* students should consider when applying to college? Let us know in the comment box below, or email Joyce at email@example.com!