Resource Guide for Trans and Nonbinary Students

Trans and nonbinary students face a variety of challenges during college. Read more about these barriers and how trans and nonbinary students can succeed on campus.
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  • Trans and nonbinary students (TNB) face numerous barriers while attending college.
  • Barriers include non-inclusive healthcare, housing discrimination, and harassment.
  • Fortunately, many universities are creating gender-inclusive environments.
  • There are college scholarships, legal services, and conferences dedicated to supporting TNB students.

College often feels overwhelming for new students. For many LGBTQ+ students — especially trans and nonbinary (TNB) individuals — these struggles may be heightened. It can be difficult to know what to expect from your new surroundings, and many TNB learners must overcome additional barriers to achieve academic success.

In a 2019 Association of American Universities survey, 1.7% of respondents identified themselves as trans, nonbinary, or questioning. However, that figure may increase in the coming years given the rising number of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in younger generations.

Read on to learn about common barriers TNB students face, as well as factors that TNB students should consider during their college search. This guide also provides a list of helpful resources that can make acclimating to school feel less overwhelming.

What Does It Mean to Be Trans or Nonbinary?

"Transgender" or "trans" can refer to anyone whose gender, whether identity or expression, differs from what is socially or culturally expected based on the sex or gender they were assumed to be at birth (those who assign gender and sex often conflate the two). The term "nonbinary" can encompass many genders outside of the man/woman gender binary. Some people use the term "nonbinary" as a gender label itself, while others may use terms like genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, pangender, neutrois, and many more.

While the word nonbinary is relatively new when applied to gender, nonbinary people have existed across histories and cultures around the globe. Some — but not all — nonbinary people are also trans. The nuance between the two terms varies across individuals and communities. The important thing to know is that there is no one way to be or "look" trans, and there is no prescribed way to be or "look" nonbinary.

Barriers to Success for TNB Students

TNB students face various barriers and challenges that can impact their college experiences, including those listed below. Like the term "nonbinary," the umbrella term "trans" also encompasses multiple genders, and it's important to remember that barriers and challenges vary across gender identities and expressions.

It is also important to examine challenges and barriers with an eye toward intersectionality and variance. Obstacles are often intensified for TNB students of color, TNB students with disabilities, low-income TNB students, trans women, TNB students of any gender perceived as feminine, undocumented, and international TNB students.

Gender-Segregated On-Campus Housing

Historically, TNB students have faced discrimination on college campuses, with almost 1 in 5 students reporting being denied access to their housing and bathrooms of choice in a 2014 study.

Without their preferred living arrangements, TNB students may face increased harassment, a decreased sense of belonging, and potential negative impacts on their education as a whole. TNB people have gone as far as to request dorm room changes, leave jobs, and even change schools in the hopes of access to safe housing and toileting spaces, but they shouldn't have to.

Name and Gender Changes

Some schools may require TNB students to put their birth name and/or gender on school identification. This practice could threaten to "out" TNB students who have been going by different names and/or genders. All students have a right to exist at school using the name and gender they want, and universities should facilitate that on school IDs, transcripts, and other official documents.

Inequitable Healthcare Options

TNB students struggle to find appointments for mental health care compared to their cis counterparts. If they are able to access care, they may encounter providers who are outwardly hostile or not well-educated on basic transgender health care competency, not just the struggles commonly associated with TNB healthcare, such as body and gender dysphoria and dysmorphia, and transition-related concerns.

Microaggressions and Harassment

Despite (and because of) these and other challenges, TNB students who do access care tend to be resourceful and creative in navigating campuses and the surrounding communities. These students often rely on each other, on- and off-campus communities and resources, and TNB alumni for support and assistance.

How to Find Gender-Inclusive Colleges

The responsibility to improve and make campus environments, policies, initiatives, and curricula more TNB-inclusive is on colleges and universities. However, TNB students can take the following measures to find institutions that are already more gender-inclusive.

  • Suspend assumptions based on institution type or geography. For example, there are historically women's, rural, community, and religious colleges that are TNB-inclusive. It is important to look beyond the surface and promotional materials when researching potential schools.
  • Campus-based LGBTQ+ center websites may direct students to helpful campus resources and policies, such as TNB student organizations, gender-inclusive housing options, and information about changing your name and gender marker on IDs and in online systems (e.g., email, directories, and learning management systems). LGBTQ+ center staff can also help answer questions and connect potential learners with current TNB students, staff, and alumni.
  • Financial aid offices, campus housing departments, student organizations, identity-based centers (e.g., multicultural centers and disability offices), and academic departments can provide important information and connections to help TNB students.
  • Off-campus organizations and resources can provide additional perspectives on the experiences of TNB students at a specific school or within a certain area. Off-campus, local, and online spaces can help individuals find support, social connections, financial assistance (e.g., pantries and scholarships), healthcare (e.g., trans health clinics), and advocacy (e.g., legal clinics).

7 Resources for Transgender and Nonbinary College Students

TNB students continue to face challenges in their higher education journeys, including housing discrimination and a shortage of inclusive mental and physical healthcare. Fortunately, colleges and universities are taking steps to make the college experience more inclusive for TNB students. Below are just a few resources available for TNB college students.

The Know Your Rights Guide advises trans and nonbinary students of their right to be protected against harassment and discrimination while attending college. It includes advice on what to do if your school refuses to use your pronouns or if they reveal information you'd prefer to keep private. The Gender Odyssey Conference includes workshops, networking, and social events for trans and nonbinary people and their support systems. There are options for youth and young adults between the ages of eight and 20, covering topics such as life after transition and queer sex education. Hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder annually, the TRANSforming Gender Conference brings experts together to educate healthcare providers on transgender care needs, finding gender-affirming care with insurance companies, and dealing with imposter syndrome. The Trans Legal Services Network provides legal resources for TNB people in each U.S. state. It lists organizations that assist with gender and name changes, help people who've faced discrimination, and assist clients to find hormone replacement therapy. This trans-run organization offers emotional and financial support to trans people who are in crisis. It offers a hotline specifically for transgender people as well as one dedicated to friends and family of transgender people. College is a stressful enough time without worrying about the financial burden of higher education. See this resource for scholarships specifically for LGBTQ+ students. TNB students have a lot to grapple with on top of a global pandemic, including harassment and discrimination on campus and finding an inclusive community. This college experience guide is here to help, with questions to ask yourself, like "Have many anti-LGBTQ+ incidents occurred at the university?"