Trans and Nonbinary Student Resource Guide
What Does It Mean to Be Trans or Nonbinary? | Barriers to Success for Trans and Nonbinary Students | Factors to Consider for Gender-Inclusive Colleges | Helpful Resources
College often feels overwhelming for new students. For many LGBTQ+ students — especially trans and nonbinary (TNB) indiviuals — 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 further in the coming years given the rising number of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals in younger generations.
Read on to learn about common barriers faced by TNB students, 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 refers to anyone whose gender identity and/or expression differs from what is socially or culturally expected based on the assigned sex at birth. The term "nonbinary" encompasses a spectrum of genders outside of or beyond the man/woman gender binary. Some people may use the term "nonbinary" to describe their gender, while others may use terms like genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, pangender, neutrois, and many more.
While the word nonbinary is relatively new, 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 impacting their college-going 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 towards intersectionality and variance. Obstacles are often intensified for TNB students of color, TNB students with disabilities, low-income TNB students, trans women and femmes, and undocumented and international TNB students.
Gender-segregated on-campus housing, restrooms, and athletics facilities force TNB students to make impossible choices between their needs and their safety. They also risk being misgendered, deadnamed, and forced to disclose their gender. Additionally, when all-gender on-campus housing options are provided, these are often in higher-cost buildings or single rooms.
Campus policies for name and gender changes that require students to show the changes on a legal ID force TNB students to wade through costly and bureaucratic processes that vary widely by county, state, and nation.
Many of these legal processes mandate medical transition procedures that may be inaccessible to or undesired by some TNB individuals. If students are unable or unwilling to go this route, campus policies, forms, and systems can misgender, "out," deadname, and/or exclude TNB students — which can have negative impacts on students' academic success and campus engagement.
TNB students contend with unaffirming, hostile, and inaccessible healthcare options, insurance forms, and practitioners, exasperating health disparities. As a result, many TNB students receive inadequate care and may not seek care when they need it.
Cisgender practitioners are often preoccupied with TNB people's genders and transition-related decisions and processes — this focus can surface feelings of not being "trans enough" (e.g., "Are you really trans if you don't medically transition?"). This misplaced focus may cause practitioners to miss or minimize health concerns facing TNB students.
On top of this, TNB students with disabilities and TNB students of color must also navigate the ableism and racism endemic in the healthcare system.
TNB students often interact with cisgender students, staff, and faculty who perpetrate transphobic microaggressions, harassment, and violence. TNB students whose gender expressions do not adhere to white-centric, culturally approved gender norms face the brunt of cisgender people's (and at times gender-conforming trans people's) insecurities and ignorance.
Ignorance about and/or hostility towards TNB students also means they may not be considered when staff and faculty design campus programs, initiatives, and curricula. This is particularly true for gender-specific initiatives, such as "Sisterhood Circles" and "Men of Color" programs for students of color, acapella groups, and fraternities and sororities. Many of these groups are also inaccessible to low-income students, and they are often racially segregated.
Compared to cisgender students, a greater proportion of TNB students come from lower-income households. Due to discrimination and rejection, they are also more likely to experience food and housing insecurities. As a result, a greater proportion of TNB students work full time, face major financial concerns, and end up being pushed out of college.
Despite (and because of) these and other challenges, TNB students 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.
Four Things to Consider When Searching for 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 also take the following measures when looking for gender-inclusive institutions.
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 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).
Helpful Resources for Transgender and Nonbinary College Students
- Conferences and organizations such as the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, Gender Odyssey, Out in STEM, the Midwest BLGTA College Conference, Creating Change, and the Black Trans Advocacy Conference all provide opportunities to meet other TNB people.
- Organizations that provide legal services and information about rights pertaining to TNB people include the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Transgender Law Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, American Civil Liberties Union, and Immigration Equality.
- Transathlete.com is a useful resource for students, athletes, coaches, and administrators. It provides information about college and NCAA policies and current state legislation.
- Trans Student Educational Resources operates as a youth-led organization focused on transforming education. It also provides a national scholarship exclusively for TNB students.