Op-Ed: Being Trans on Campus

Advice for transgender and nonbinary students starting college and returning to campus

By Julia Schwenderman, Syracuse University 2022, Campus Pride 2021 Summer Intern

I am a Campus Pride intern and a fourth-year student at Syracuse University. As a college student, I have had the freedom to explore my gender and sexuality while living on my own. I did not come out as nonbinary until my junior year of college, and it was difficult at first to navigate the challenges of being trans on campus.

Whether you’re a first-year student or are about to graduate, there are more resources available to you than you realize. You are not the first or last student going through this, and you are not alone. Read below for some of the best advice and resources I’ve found in my time at Syracuse.

Campus resources for trans and nonbinary students

Campus Pride’s Trans Policy Clearinghouse is a resource for college and university transgender policies. The clearinghouse is updated regularly by Dr. Genny Beemyn, a scholar on trans issues in higher education and the Director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Stonewall Center. Read more trans and nonbinary student resources.

It is important to know whether trans and nonbinary student rights are protected on your campus. In recent years, colleges and universities have updated their nondiscrimination policies to include gender identity/expression. If you attend a historically women’s college, make sure you are aware of your school’s trans admissions and graduation policies if you plan on coming out or transitioning as a matriculated student.

 Trans-inclusive school records and legal identification

At Syracuse University, students can change their gender designation with legal documentation, but only if it matches their “legal sex designation.” Your legal gender designation is provided on government documents, like a license or passport, which many trans individuals don’t have.

Schools like Elon University will allow you to update your name and pronouns on school records or through your student portal. Although you may be unable to update your “legal sex designation” on your records, your preferred name and pronouns will be available to all of your professors on their class rosters.

If you experience bias or discrimination in the classroom, you can use Campus Pride’s bias and hate crime prevention resources or go through your school’s official channels. LGBTQ discrimination is illegal at government-funded institutions under Title IX. Click here for more information about how the law protects LGBTQ students.

Trans-affirming campus spaces and facilities

Today, many colleges and universities offer gender-inclusive student housing. At Duke University, students living in dorms can request a gender neutral rooming assignment to make their on-campus living arrangements more comfortable. Some universities offer LGBTQ Living Learning Communities for first-year students or gender-inclusive student housing, like Shore Hall at Guilford College.

Bathrooms are often a point of contention for trans and nonbinary students. Student housing at many universities and colleges still features community showers or “sex separate” floors and bathrooms. Contact your residential housing association to locate gender neutral bathrooms in the dorms. Check out your school’s website to see if they offer a map or list of other trans-inclusive facilities on campus.

Gender-affirming counseling and healthcare services

Finding a LGBTQ health center in my college town helped me through my transition and to navigate my mental health struggles. At the University of Connecticut and other schools, students can receive gender-affirming healthcare and counseling services.

Student health centers at some schools offer a variety of gender healthcare services, like hormone therapy, general wellness and gender-affirming consultations. Check out your student healthcare center’s pharmacy to see if they sell trans-inclusive health and wellness supplies, like chest binders, KT tape and hair-removal treatments.

But, there are other resources for finding LGBTQ-affirming therapists and healthcare providers. Find an LGBTQ healthcare provider using the GLMA Provider Directory. For students of color looking for BIPOC therapists, check out the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.

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