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Transgender Students on Colleges: Needs and Challenges Dissertation

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Updated: May 6th, 2019


Transgender is a term used to define a variety of groups of people who portray a deviation from the conventionally set gender identities. It is a case of one’s identity and has completely nothing to do with an individual’s sexual orientation because a transgender person can be heterosexual, bisexual, poly-sexual, pansexual, asexual or even homosexual (Beemyn, 2005, ).

Transgender is a state of the person not identifying with the assigned gender, which is mostly because of appearance or genetics. In order to accommodate all the involved groups of people, there is no attributed definition of transgender due to the diversity of the subject.

It is important therefore to note that a transgender person may portray characteristics of a given gender, or identify in a different place in the gender continuum or fail to associate with any of the traditional gender identities.

According to Carter (1999), the definition of the term transgender keeps on evolving and therefore the meaning is dynamic. There is a need therefore to understand what is inclusive in the transgender definition through comparing it with other related terminologies.

The term transsexual has its origin in the medical and psychological disciplines. Many people under the category of transsexuals have the belief that for one to fit in the category completely, they have to undergo a surgery (Beemyn, 2005, p.80).

It is however possible to reassign this change of gender simply by the administration of the hormones estrogen and testosterone. The sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) sets the foundation for the transition from one gender identity to the next or even settling in between for transsexuals.

Transsexuals are therefore considered as components under the umbrella of transgender. This follows the simple logic that the transsexuals undergo the transition for the desire to identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth by considering their genitals.

Identities inclusive in transgender

According to Beemyn (2005, p.34), there is a number of overlapping identities that can be included in the transgender bracket. This includes the Cross-dressers/ transvestite, adrogynes, gender queer, drag queens and kings, and transsexuals.

The category of transvestite fetishists is not included in transgender because it is regarded as rather a paraphilia and not a gender identity. In order to be considered a transgender, the person must portray the desire to identify with a sex different from the one that they were assigned at birth (Carter, 1999, p. 45).

This leaves out the category of those people who are intersex. These people have characteristics such as genitalia that do not conform strictly to the definitions of the traditional alignments of gender. These people cannot be strictly transgender considering that they do not necessarily disagree with their assigned gender or current identity.

The condition of portraying the desire to identify with the opposite sex has however been contested by some scholars interested in the discipline. These include Bilodeau (2005, p.30), who states that by choosing that as a determining factor, an equally important group; the cross dressers/ transvestite will be left out.

This is because according to his definition of cross dressers, the people involved do not desire to identify with the opposite sex but only fancy wearing clothing that belongs to the opposite sex not because they want to feel like the opposite sex but simply because it is of the opposite sex.

This locks out those people who dress clothes belonging to the opposite sex for other reasons. A clear understanding of the challenges and the needs of students under this category is important to ensure that their welfare is catered for.



According to Beemyn ,most institutions of higher learning have gender exclusive policies that marginalize the transgender students (2005, p.77).Cases have been recorded whereby transgender students feel completely out of place due to the policies that are in place in their institutions of learning.

He explores the forms of discriminatory policies that exist in these institutions. For instance, he gives an example of a situation from Ohio State University where the campus admission form expects applicants to check either the M or F boxes for their gender (Beemyn, 2005, p. 34).

In this case, transgender students wishing to join the university felt completely left out in the process since some are not fully aware of where they belong. Beemyn (2005) goes further to address the different challenges that the students face in accessing services from different facilities in the campuses and colleges (p.102).

For instance, in the halls of residence, there is a tendency by most institutions to brand a given hall as belonging to either male only or females only. This makes it difficult for transgender students to take campus housing as an option since they already feel left out by the system.


A more personal problem that transgender students face is that of disapproval. They encounter hostility due to their changing or already changed identities (Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesling, & Malouf, 2001, p.100). Worth noting is that people consider this a source of violence and harassment.

Hate crimes directed to the transgender students is rampant in many institutions of higher learning (Beemyn, 2005, p. 100).

In situations where these students are faced with harassment and there are no organs put in place by the institutions to help them, some end up dropping out of school or getting psychologically affected which results into poor academic performances by the students.

Some of the students have testified having faced disapproval that has eventually affected them to an extent to dropping out of school. This is worse especially when the disapproval and lack of necessary support is also present at the student’s home (Carter, 1999, p. 78).

According to Beemyn (2005) students who face disapproval, both in their homes and in campus were the most affected (p. 45). This in most cases results to depression and the student can no longer concentrate with his/ her studies.


The negative attention that transgender students receive results to depression. One of the most rampant occurrences is that of transgender students developing stress that deteriorates to depression. These students are abused, mistreated and worst still experience violence directed towards them simply because of their state.

When depressed, these students cannot concentrate with their studies and their overall performance is greatly affected. A good example in where a student was insulted by being called a “fag” and a “queer” simply because he looks effeminate (Beemyn, 2005, p. 34).

This must have been a tough time for the student who had to balance his social identity and his academic work to make sure that he excelled in his endeavors. Such treatment directed on transgender students is a major cause of concern since it is also the biggest cause of depression to the students.

Most learning institutions lack enough facilities such as counseling centers to assist transgender students who find themselves caught up in such situations. This further contributes to the depression since the students tend to feel that no one cares for them and that they are all by themselves.

Fear of their life after campus

Transgender students live with the fear that they may face more problems in the future when they come out of their present institutions (Herbst, & Malaney, 1999, p. 43). These fears include the fear that they might not get work in their respective areas of specialization when other people discover the truth about their identities.

This is mostly in cases where by the employers or the faculty members might have a phobia and treat them harshly or deny them chances based on their identities. Some institutions in the society have policies that do not tolerate transgender people and the particular student might have interest in the specific area (Lees, 1998, p.23).

As given in the example of the Ohio State University by Beemyn, transsexual students wonder and express fear in what to expect in the future, where they strive desperately to have their gender changed in the records to reflect their current appearance. They also express fears about how others will receive them when they get out finding jobs.

Because of this fear, these students are always psychologically affected and this worry fills a portion of their minds where they should be receiving new knowledge from their teachers and professors.

These worries also confuse some students when it comes to career choice since they become confused as what to do to impress others at the expense of their happiness and personal satisfaction.

Sexual harassment and abuse from others

There are reported cases in many institutions of higher learning where transgender students are victims of sexual harassment and abuse from their colleagues (Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesling, & Malouf, 2001, p. 93).

This is mostly in cases where the institutions have no consideration of transgender students especially when it comes to the assigning of amenities such as bathrooms, restrooms and residential halls.

A good example is a case where a teacher might force a transsexual student to share a room with a bully who discovers the state of the other student and harasses him or her.

Lombardi (2001, p.89) states that these cases have been rampant in most institutions and little has been addressed concerning the efforts that are being put in place to curb such a crime.

Due to the fear of attracting unnecessary attention towards themselves, the students who become victims of their situations end up depressed and some result to desperate measures to liberate themselves while keeping it as a secret.

There have been cases where by transsexual students who are victims of sexual abuse result into murdering their predators in order to seek their redemption. In fact, most people do not always consider such incidences when dealing with the investigation of such crimes, which leads to the real problems, which the people including teachers and parents leave unsolved by the end of the day.

Low self-esteem

Institutions such as colleges and universities are supposed to prepare students for the tough challenges of adulthood that people need to address with a lot of self-confidence and esteem.

Due to the problems encountered by the transgender students in their social life, it becomes quite difficult for them to develop self-esteem since colleagues and other people they interact with always look down upon them.

In some institutions, this is worse to the extent that a transgender student cannot make a class or a school presentation without others booing them (Pusch, 2005, p.62). This makes the students to feel out of place and always lacking their own confidence.

There are many incidences where transsexual students face a good deal of ridicule from their closest friends because of their state. Since most cannot do a thing to change their current situations, they end up recoiling in themselves and as a result, their composure and overall self-esteem is lowered (Currah, Minter, & Green, 2000, p.68).

Lack of proper representation

In some colleges especially those that are of the conservative type, transgender students face the problem of people not representing them as well as not giving a forum to their problems where they can be addressed (Lees, 1998, p. 41).

This results to the problems that they face failing to be addressed fully and they end up collapsing under the weight of their challenges. However, though some institutions claim to represent fully the minority groups, they do not tackle appropriately the issue of transgender students based on their failure to address their problems to satisfaction.

Needs of transgender students

Full representation

To address the issue of transgender students often feeling left out, invisible or underrepresented, the college and campus administrators should incorporate in their systems a more inclusive education program that allows the full participation of transgender students (Lees, 1998, p.43).

Lees continues to state that the formation of associations that would act as forums for the students to share their experiences is a major need that any institution that is aimed at improving the environment to suite all groups of students and facilitate their academic excellence cannot disregard (1998, p.54).

The programming of activities in the colleges and campuses should be such that they all-inclusive. As argued by Beemyn (2005, p.39), these activities contribute to the development of the students.

There should be certain times while the activities should be specially designed to suite the transgender students for the reason of making them feel appreciated and completely part of the system.


In most institutions, people address transgender issues together with that of the lesbian, gays and bisexuals (LGB) (Putsch, 2005, p.112).

However, in most cases despite these organizations having the inclusive mandate of addressing the issues of the bisexuals, they end up not solving them by the end of the day. This is mostly the case for transgender students who identify themselves as heterosexuals (Beemyn, 2005, p.56).

In order to receive this full support, transgender students need to form their own separate associations that will look into their issues separately to ensure that every issue related to transgender is reviewed and addressed accordingly. This is always possible when there is a supportive climate in the campus (Currah, Minter, & Green, 2000).

All inclusive policies

The evident discriminatory policies in virtually all campuses affect transgender students largely. The situation therefore calls for the need to amend most of the nondiscrimination policies of these institutions that include the selection of the categories of “sex” or sexual orientation to cover the transgender people.

In this case, people should perceive their gender expression rather than their biological gender without any interrogation as the gender identity of the student (Beemyn, 2005, p. 37).

Confirming the Love (1999, p.295) states that there are other instances whereby a transgender student wants to change the identity that is currently reflected on their documents. In these instances, the procedure to do so should be an easy one to ensure that they can do so without any form of disapproval or rough interrogation.

All inclusive housing in the campus

Most institutions have housing policies that assume that all of the students are either male or female. These policies are dangerous in that they discriminate against the transgender students and expose them to ‘trans-phobic’ sexual violence and harassment.

Therefore, the responsible people should amend these policies to address the concerns of transgender students especially those who are in the process of transition from one gender to the other. There should be separate residential halls for transgender students rather than simply labeling them as for males and females only (McKinney, 2005, p.102).

When the amendment of these policies takes place with the housing of students in campuses becoming all-inclusive, the transgender students will feel appreciated based on the observance of their privacy. When they share halls of residence, they coexist easily with one another since they understand each other.


According to Bochenek and Brown (2001), institutions accommodating transgender students need to accord them the right to privacy whereby their sexual orientation or nature should not form topics of discussion to others (p. 122).

The need follows because most unnecessary attentions result to these students feeling uneasy as well as the feeling of mistreatment by the management who seem to interfere with their privacy rights (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 19).

This can only happen where the student fraternity as well as other members of the campus society is educated about the nature of transgender students.

This deals with the attitudes of disapproval and hatred that can negatively affect these students. One everyone in the campus creates a suitable condition for the transgender student, social life becomes easy and the student feels that s/he is normal and part of the society.

Putting aside bathrooms and locker rooms that are designated neither for males nor for females can pass for a good way of ensuring, that the students use the facilities that do not expose them to other people’s curiosities (Rankin, 2003, p.29). The

Ease to amend vital identification College records and documents

Institutions that harbor transsexual students need to give them the opportunity to amend their names and other vital information in the college records with ease. They should allow those who decide transition from a particular gender to the other completely by the change of names to do so without any restrictions (Nakamura, 1998, p.102).

They should further help them in the process legally or otherwise to avoid incidences whereby the arm of the government might catch them up in compromising situations and have to explain why their names do not reflect their original names or their current gender.

The processes of changing important details such as names in vital documents however vary from one state to the other. Some states have cumbersome procedures that require the intervention of the administrators of the school to ensure that the students succeed in the venture.


Despite the fact that institutions of higher learning should prepare students to become responsible adults, transgender students continue face numerous challenges while in these institutions that include colleges and universities (Brown, Clarke, Gortmaker, & Robinson-Keilig, 2005, p.65).

These challenges influence negatively on their academic performance and psychologically. In order to address completely the needs of transgender students, it is important first to be aware of the major challenges affecting them.

Institutions harboring these students need to give them the chance to excel academically and develop physically, mentally, and spiritually (Bilodeau, 2005, p.40). This can only be reached if all the challenges and needs that they have are addressed accordingly therefore making the environment conducive for their learning.

Addressing these issue amounts to upholding their human rights, which make them feel appreciated and supported and given the right environment to make it in life (Carter, 1999, p.72). Otherwise, disability does not imply inability, as these are students like others with equal potential of excelling, not only academically but also in life in general.

References List

Beemyn, B. (2005). Making Campuses more Inclusive of Transgender Students. Journal of Gay & Lesbian issues in Education, 3(1), pp.77-87.

Bilodeau, B. (2005). Beyond the Gender Binary: A case Study of two Transgender Students at a Midwestern Research University. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues in Education, 3(1), pp. 29-44.

Bochenek, M., & Brown, A. (2001). Hatred in the hallways: Violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in U.S. schools. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Brown, R., Clarke, B., Gortmaker, V., & Robinson-Keilig, R. (2005). Assessing the Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Students using a Multiple Perspectives Approach. In S. R. Rankin, Campus climate for sexual minorities. New Directions for Student Services, 111, pp.17-23.

Carter, K. (1999). Transgenderism and College Students: Issues of Gender Identity and its Role on our Campuses, Toward acceptance: Sexual Orientation Issues on Campus. USA: University Press of America.

Currah, P., Minter, S., & Green, J. (2000). Transgender equality: A handbook for activists and policymakers. Washington, DC: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Herbst, S., & Malaney, G. (1999). Perceived Value of a Special Interest Residential Program for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Students. NASPA Journal, 36(2), pp.106-109.

Human Rights Watch. (2001). Hatred in the hallways: Violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in U.S. schools. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Lees, L. (1998). Transgender Students on our Campuses, Working With Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender College Students: A handbook for Faculty and Administrators. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lombardi, E., Wilchins, R., Priesling, D., & Malouf, D. (2001). Gender violence: Transgender experiences with violence and discrimination. The Journal of Homosexuality, 42, pp.89-101.

Love, P., (1999). Cultural barriers facing lesbian, gay, bisexual students at a Catholic college. Journal of Higher Education, 69, pp.298–323.

McKinney, J., (2005). On the Margins: A Study of the Experiences of Transgender College Students”. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues in Education, 3(1), pp. 58-84.

Nakamura, K. (1998). Transitioning on Campus: A case Studies Approach. Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender College Students: A handbook for Faculty and Administrators. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Pusch, R. (2005). Objects of Curiosity: Transgender College Students’ Perception of the Reactions of Others”. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues in Education, 3(1), pp. 45-71.

Rankin, S. (2003). Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People: A National Perspective. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

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