Providing full gender equity for trans* and gender non-conforming students, staff, and faculty members is an ongoing challenge at many institutions of higher education across the country. I fully believe that in order to achieve full gender justice on college and university campuses, trans* and gender conforming individuals must work together to envision what a truly equitable and just campus would look like. This is not easy work, but I think it can be helpful to highlight some of the amazing work being done across the country. Some of the work that I see being done on college and university campuses includes (but by no means is limited to) the following.
- Gender-neutral housing options. Many students have talked with me about the need for more safe and secure housing on their campuses, as well as the discrimination they have incurred on account of their gender identity or gender presentation within these spaces. Many residence halls are gendered spaces that reinforce rigid gender expectations on their residents, force students to live in a space that consistently refuses to validate their gender identity, and lack any feeling of safety or privacy, particularly in shared bathrooms or living spaces. Consequently, at many campuses, this has meant the creation of gender-neutral housing for students, such as the development of Everybody Loves Everybody, an LGBTQIA and allied living community I advise at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. These spaces are not only provide a more suitable living option for gender non-conforming students, but also meet a larger demand by students around the country who are asking to be allowed to live with any other student, regardless of gender.
- Athletics. Trans* athletes can face enormous barriers to play on collegiate sports teams, including discrimination and harassment by teammates and coaches, a hostile campus environment, or even barring by administrators to play on such teams. Many collegiate athletic programs around the country are realizing the need for full equity on all of their teams. As a result, the NCAA Executive Committee approved new policies in 2011 aimed at greater participation by trans* athletes. As a result of these recommendations, I have helped train a number of student athletes, captains, coaches, and athletic personnel around fully embracing gender diversity within their athletic programs. Nevertheless, restrictions still remain, and participation by students on the team of their choice can depend on having access to medical insurance that will pay for hormone therapy.
- Preferred name policies. Students’ names are used publicly on a daily basis to identify individuals and to affirm one’s gender identity, as most names have are gendered. However, the names on class rosters, on student identification cards, on online directories, on residence hall rosters, on transcripts, and on official communications with the college—among many other things—usually, by default, are one’s name assigned at birth rather than one’s chosen name. Some colleges and universities have responded by developing preferred name policies, allowing internal systems (i.e., class rosters, student identification cards, etc.) to identify a student by their preferred name in all cases where it is not legally required to do so. Institutions that have adopted such policies include Bridgewater State University, Connecticut College, and the University of Vermont, among others. I have also been involved in conversations with my campuses and others across the region in attempting to develop preferred name change policies that allow for students to identify how they choose. Nevertheless, one’s preferred name is not allowed on documents pertaining to financial aid, official transcripts, and oftentimes official correspondence with the institution. With the legal and monetary barriers in place for someone to try to change their name, although a college may have such a policy, many students are often left with getting various documentation with different names. Thus, I strongly believe that more advocacy and policy change is needed at both the state and federal level to eliminate barriers around changing one’s name.
These three examples in no way encompasses all of the amazing work being done, including the organizing the University of Minnesota Transgender Commission has done to increase restroom access on its campus or how many campuses now offer fully trans*-inclusive coverage in their health plans. Nor do these examples fully capture the enormous challenges facing trans* and gender non-conforming students.
I believe that it’s imperative to work with students, staff, and faculty to demonstrate that every person participates in systems of gender and genderism. In doing so, individuals can understand how genderism impacts them (though its impact on trans* and gender non-conforming individuals differs greatly than on gender conforming individuals) and take ownership in the ways they enable barriers to be placed for trans* individuals on campus. Furthermore, I strongly believe that this work must be done in community: It is when we work together as a coalition of students, staff, faculty, and administrators that long-lasting, sustainable change occurs. Thus, change on campus depends on individuals being aware of how gender fundamentally impacts them on a daily basis, how they participate in such gendered systems, and needing to work in coalition with others to promote positive policy and cultural changes on campus.
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