By Devin McCarthy
Four traditional men’s colleges remain across the United States: Morehouse College, Hampden-Sydney College, Saint John’s University, and Wabash College. Only Morehouse accepts transgender men, and the school requires students to continue to identify as male for their entire time at the college in order to be eligible to graduate. While this policy is a significant step for the acceptance of transgender men nationwide, we are still clearly a long way from true recognition of the rights of trans men at American institutions.
Until recently, transgender women were barred from all women’s colleges in the United States. Calliope Wong made headlines in 2013 when she was denied entry into Smith College due to her biological sex and birth. Strong backlash caused women’s schools across the country to reconsider their admissions policy for trans women. Today, 26 of the 39 schools in the Women’s College Coalition accept at least some transgender women. However, these policies vary wildly. Some have very strict regulation as to which transgender women can be accepted, only a few admit trans men, and several admit non-binary students as well. Policies can be as inclusive as Mount Holyoke College, which accepts every student except those who were born biologically male and continue to identify as men, or as specific as Smith College, which accepts transgender women but notes that transgender men and gender-non-conforming students are not eligible for admission.
Barriers for transgender women at women’s colleges do not end after the admissions process, however. Trans women in athletics, for example, is still a hotly contested topic nationwide. The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) released guidelines for transgender women in 2010. These regulations state that students taking hormones must have received a diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism”, an objectively outdated statement. Transgender women are also forced to take at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment before participating in athletics. These student-athletes face extreme criticism from the public and often do not feel fully accepted by their teammates or their institution as a whole. The constant accusations of “an unfair advantage” or “not belonging in the sport” can discourage transgender women and take the focus away from their athletic accomplishments.
Transgender students have to overcome all the usual challenges of a college student – difficult classes, roommate problems, homesickness – while also dealing with discrimination and often violence. These students experience sexual violence at a rate two to three times higher than that of their cisgender peers, and over one in four transgender people in the U.S. has been the victim of a bias-driven assault. Finally, many trans students, especially at men’s and women’s colleges where they are underrepresented, feel pressure to speak for and promote equal rights for transgender and gender-non-conforming students nationwide.
When school policy does not care for trans students, the burden of fighting discrimination falls on the individual students themselves. While progress is being made, institutions cannot just admit transgender students; they need to promote and enforce their rights.