It is halfway through September, during the disastrous 2020, and if you are a senior in high school considering the next steps in education, college is on your mind. So many choices, both academically and geographically-and if you are trans, further complicated by fears of not being accepted and worse, violence that is often experienced by the transgendered. These are legitimate concerns but doing your research beforehand can help alleviate some of that anxiety.
Consider that even those outside of the LGBTQI community are stressing about going to college. With growing racial tensions and increased divisiveness throughout the country, many non-white college students are understandably worried about violence. All students, trans or cisgender, are aware of the threat of sexual assault. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network),11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students). Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. The rates among trans students are even more troubling, with one in four transgender students reporting having experienced sexual assault since enrolling in college, according to a survey created by the Association of American Universities.
The statistics are scary, but no one is suggesting that kids stay home and hide to avoid being victimized. That is no kind of life, and that period of time between the ages of 18 and 24 can be the most important and exciting times in a person’s life. College life can offer a sort of comfortable, concentrated society that transitions kids into the much harsher reality of adulthood. This is the period of self-discovery when we decide who we are and how to go about becoming that person. For many trans and non-binary teenagers, this is the first opportunity they must find acceptance within a peer group and live openly as they wish.
So, we must do our homework. Just as it is smart to write a list of qualities in order of priority for what you are looking for in a college, it is that much smarter to add safety to the top of that list. By visiting the website of each individual institution, you can find a pretty good indication of what the culture of said institution is intended to be. If the words “inclusiveness” and “diversity” are used in a mission statement, that is a good place to start. Does the college you ultimately choose to attend have safety protocols in place to address YOUR specific concerns, as a person that identifies within the LGBTQI community? Do not just take their word for it, though. Utilize search engines to investigate the campus histories of violence and tolerance. How did administrators react to incidents of sexual assault and racial unrest? If you are a trans person of color, will you be able to anticipate support from the student leaders and officials in charge of discipline?
Most importantly, what sort of support and programming can you look forward to if you should attend your college of choice. Many, like New York University, provide resource centers for LGBTQ+ youth. “The NYU LGBTQ+ Center creates a welcoming environment for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to develop their understanding of and engage with LGBTQ+ communities through programs, events, learning and development, support, consultation, and resource sharing.” Many of these programs are being operated remotely during the pandemic, but that is also true of many classes and groups for the time being. Everyone needs support, and if you are paying for that education, you are entitled to use these services. The good news is that many more universities and colleges are offering these types of programs, clubs, and groups.
It is also becoming more common for students to be able to be known by their preferred name and gender identity, whether on their student ID, diploma, or by peers, staff, and teachers. If a clear policy is NOT indicated on the Edu website, prospective students should consult that institution’s human resource department about that and any other procedure you might find relevant, preferably to be provided in writing so that you know what your rights are before your make your first payment.
So much information is available to anyone with access to a computer that is should be impossible for anyone choosing where to continue their education NOT to make an informed choice. It doesn’t even take that long to discover whether the place you choose is right for your academic needs AND your overall wellbeing.