Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Back to campus: Policies and practices for trans college students

We've been doing this blog for some years now and so we notice trends. For example, every spring there are a dozen stories or so about trans and gender non-conforming students being denied access to their proms, other school-sponsored events, and sometimes even a spot in their own yearbooks.
This fall there is far more attention being paid to the lives of trans students on college campuses. (Some of this did start happening over the summer with the visibility of an Oregon college student's efforts to get housed with other men and with the rise in religious colleges seeking Title IX exemptions from accommodating trans students.)
But yesterday's announcement from the all-female Mt Holyoke College about their new admissions policy is just one story about trans college students.
Mills College, another women's college, also announced changes to its admissions policy. The California school will now admit self-identified women. It will not admit FTM students who have legally changed their gender prior to application to the school, but will--like MHC--retain those students who transition while at Mills.
The public announcement of these policies is something certainly to be lauded along with those of co-educational institutions that are making explicit the legal protections afforded to transgender students as well as resources for these students.
The Transgender Law and Policy Institute has published this about the rights of trans students and responsibilities of schools as well as examples of what schools are and are not doing. I could not find a date on this piece, so I am not sure how accurate the numbers are regarding the availability of, for example, gender neutral bathrooms or how many schools allow students to change their given name for school transcripts without legal documentations, etc. But the guidelines are valuable regardless touching on many aspects of student life: housing, bathrooms, health care, locker rooms, documentation. 

The issue may come in how this and other information is disseminated. This piece from Buzzfeed speaks to the burden trans students face in explaining their lives, their identities, their names and pronouns, etc. to not just their peers, but their professors. One student called it "Trans 101." And if you have been paying attention to some of the media this past summer around Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, two high-profile transwomen and their treatment by talk show hosts, you know that cisgender people often feel it is permissible to ask very personal questions. Both Cox and Mock publicly expressed the problems with such questions, but trans students likely have to make decisions every day in one-on-one or small group settings about how much to reveal and how to explain that even asking some questions is inappropriate and why. This subjects them to any number of responses from peers and those above them (professors, administrators, staff). It is not unusual for those in the majority to expect the minority to educate them. Jean Baker Miller discusses this dynamic in her article "Domination and Subordination."
In other words, policies are great, but they do not change culture all by themselves. Such work requires additional and consistent efforts by those in the majority and the minority.