How to Support Trans Students During the College Application Process
Navigating the college admissions process is challenging for every student, particularly since campus "fit" is such an important factor. Students from every demographic want to feel welcomed and supported on campuses, and College Confidential often fields questions from students looking for their best fit university. We've rounded up three of the most recent queries we've received from students who identify as part of the trans community, and we're sharing them today.
To answer those questions, we sat down with Genny Beemyn, PhD, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and coordinator of Campus Pride's Trans Policy Clearinghouse. Check out Beemyn's insights and advice, along with their recommendations about how colleges can better support trans applicants and students.
Question 1: What Should Trans Students and Their Families Look for During the Admissions Process?
Beemyn: There are many policies and practices that trans students and their parents should be looking for to see if a college is going to be trans-inclusive. These include:
- Does the college include "gender identity" in its nondiscrimination policy?
- Is housing assigned based on gender identity rather than the sex on legal documents? If not, do they offer gender-inclusive housing with gender-inclusive bathrooms?
- Are there a lot of gender-inclusive restrooms on the campus?
- Do athletic and rec facilities include private locker and bathroom facilities that trans students can use?
- Can trans students have the name they go by on course rosters, ID cards and other records?
- Is there the opportunity to indicate one's pronouns on course rosters and other records?
And for trans students who are transitioning:
- Are hormones and gender-affirming surgeries covered by student health insurance?
- If there is a college health center, can it prescribe and monitor hormones?
- If hormones are not available on campus, are they readily accessible off-campus?
Most, if not all, of these policies should be included on a college's website. If these policies are not there, that is a red flag.
In conversations with college officials, trans students and their parents can also look for signs of inclusion, such as whether the officials indicate their pronouns and ask others for their pronouns, rather than assuming people's genders. Another good indicator of inclusion is whether the admissions form asks for students' gender identity. If a college is asking this question, it shows that the institution recognizes trans students and wants to have a sense of how many are applying and matriculating.
If a student is willing to be out, they can ask faculty and administrators in their intended major how much experience the department has in supporting trans students and whether the department has out trans faculty members. The student can also talk with trans students at the college to hear about their experiences. The Admissions Office should be able to connect a student with trans students on the campus. If it cannot, that is also a red flag.
Outside of policies, trans students and their parents should look at the campus climate. Some questions to consider:
- Is there a campus LGBTQ+ center that is professionally staffed? If not, is there an administrator whose job formally includes LGBTQ+ student services?
- Does the campus have a trans student group or a trans support group? If not, is there an LGBTQ+ group that appears to be truly trans inclusive?
- Does the campus provide ongoing LGBTQ+ allyship trainings, and do many faculty and staff attend these trainings?
- Is there an LGBTQ+ studies program? If not, are there trans and LGBTQ+ courses regularly offered?
- Does the office responsible for Title IX enforcement recognize that anti-trans harassment and discrimination are covered by the law?
Question 2: Should a Student Disclose That They Are Trans During the Application Process?
Beemyn: Conservative, religiously-affiliated colleges can and do discriminate against trans students, so a student should not be out if they are applying to one of these institutions. (If a trans student is applying to one of these colleges, they should ask themselves how happy they would be at an institution where they will have to hide their gender identity to avoid being asked to leave).
At most colleges, being trans will not be an issue in the admissions process, so it comes down to how comfortable a student feels in being out. However, a student should keep in mind that in order to take advantage of some trans-inclusive policies, like being assigned to gender-inclusive housing or having a chosen name on their ID college card, they will need to disclose their gender identity to college officials.
Question 3: How Can Campuses Better Accommodate Trans Students in Their Resources, Programs and Policies?
Beemyn: The short answer is to provide the policies and resources that are addressed in the questions I raised above. Beyond that, a college should be bringing trans speakers and performers to campus to educate cis students and to enable trans students to see themselves reflected in college programming. There are many well-known trans people (mostly trans women) who will attract a big audience, like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, the folks from Pose, the Wachowskis, Jazz Jennings, and Jennifer Finney Boylan, so there is no excuse not to include trans people in cocurricular offerings.