Just this year the Department of Education released guidance making Title IX protections for transgender and gender non-conforming students explicit. The move came on the heels of years of controversy surrounding the treatment of transgender students, on topics such as housing, bathroom use, and even disciplinary actions. Here are three recent stories about policy changes, federal exemptions, and the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students.
Several traditionally all-female colleges have changed their policies to make them more officially welcoming to transgender and non-gender conforming applicants and students. Mills College, an all-female university in the San Francisco Bay Area, recently changed school policy to officially reflect the long-time practice of accepting self-identified females who are “transgender or gender fluid.” Transgender male students who transition while attending Mills will be welcome to stay on. Similarly, Mount Holyoke College announced a change to their admissions policy this week to explicitly welcome transgender applicants. Under the new policy, the school will accept any applicant who is not a cisgender male. Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella introduced the amended policy as a move to recognize “human rights at home.” The change has been met largely with enthusiasm from students and alumni.
Since the Education Department’s guidance explicitly expanded Title IX protections to transgender students, several Christian colleges have sought and received exemptions allowing them to discriminate against transgender students while still receiving federal funding. Citing religious beliefs, George Fox University received an exemption to deny housing to a transgender student. Exemptions granted to Spring Arbor University and Simpson University go a step further, allowing them to expel transgender students and reject transgender applicants. Such policies have existed for years on the campuses in question, but will now remain legal despite the Education Department’s guidance. Executive director of Campus Pride, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ students, has objected to the exemptions and the policies they preserve, calling these schools “dinosaurs of bigotry.” According to Windmeyer, “These policies are harmful to students.”
Of course, not all of the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming students can be solved (or created) by new school policies. This piece from Buzzfeed highlights difficulties that range from receiving appropriate housing to explaining preferred pronouns, repeatedly, to classmates and even professors. Transgender students talk about the awkwardness of emailing professors to request the use of a preferred name or of answering shockingly intimate questions posed by near-strangers on campus. While changing policies is an important piece of making all student welcome and comfortable on campus, changing culture is just as crucial to create a more inclusive learning environment.