At Safety Net, we understand that it can be a challenge to accommodate the safety needs of transgender and gender queer (trans*) students within student housing systems that have not previously accounted for trans* students. We have developed the following guidelines as an attempt to help Christian Colleges and Universities appropriately accommodate the needs of trans* students within their campus climate and institutional commitments.
It might help to consider the following as guiding ideas and principles:
- Reasonable Accommodation: Transgender students are living with a medically verifiable condition that they have had from birth whose standard medical treatment (WPATH Standards) often requires a gender presentation consistent with that self-awareness of their transgender identity as a part of their treatment. A fruitful question here might be to ask what might a reasonable accommodation be for students, given the medical condition they face?
- Student Vulnerability: A second consideration is the greater vulnerability of this trans* student versus other students. The disproportionate rate of violence against transgender and gender non-conforming persons is well established. On the other hand, research has consistently shown that public fears surrounding accommodations of trans* persons in public spaces such as bathrooms are unfounded and “beyond speculative.” Based on this information, we would suggest that trans* students are more likely to be a victim of assault than their classmates. A fruitful question might be whether a trans* person, particularly a trans* person who is unable to “pass” as the gender with which that person identifies, would be at a greater risk of harassment and violence in the residence hall of their assigned (rather than identified) gender.
- Education: Education around trans* identity can help the community become a safer and more welcoming space for trans* students. As students become more familiar with trans* persons as fellow human beings rather than “issues facing the church,” they can be better equipped for relating to these students and other trans* persons whom they are likely to encounter out in the world, in a humane manner. A simple online resource that explains transgender identity and identifies further resources might be a helpful way of providing information to the larger school community. One such resource which is excellent and brief was developed by John Hopkins University’s Office of LGBTQ Life. Likewise, we would be happy to help provide further in-person training in this area for any interested faculty, staff, and students.
- Community: Isolation puts students at a higher risk for depression, suicide, low self-esteem (Pubmed 17849936), addiction (Pubmed 23352169), and bullying (Pubmed 19766941). Even if the student and school determine that a single person dorm room solution is the physically safest option, it is important to work to keep the student integrated into the campus community for the student’s emotional safety.
Options Other Christian Colleges Have Utilized
In considering how to practically develop a trans* housing policy, it can help to consider what options different Christian Colleges and universities have employed. In each case, we are aware of at least one Christian college or university that has used this strategy (due to confidentiality, we are unable to disclose the identity of most of these schools). With the exception of the first option, the schools utilizing these options are CCCU member institutions.
- Gender Neutral Housing: Create gender-neutral housing spaces that are made available to students, regardless of their assigned sex at birth or gender identity. This could be done through a gender-neutral floor or wing of a dormitory, a gender-neutral house, or gender-neutral apartment or suite options. As an example, a non-CCCU Christian college, Pacific Lutheran University, has been providing gender-neutral housing options for its students since 2012.
- On-Campus Apartments or Suites: Allow transgender students to live in a suite or apartment on campus with other members of the gender that they identify with. This will ensure their safety and will also optimally promote their integration into campus life, avoiding the isolation that is often experienced by transgender students.
- Off-Campus Gender Congruent Housing: Allow transgender students to live off-campus with other members of the gender that they identify with. For example, allow a transgender student who identifies as male to live with other males off-campus. This could be done on a case-by-case basis.
- Rooming With a Family Member: If a transgender student has a family member who is also attending the college, and the family members are comfortable living together, allow the transgender student to live with their family member regardless of their family member’s gender. We are aware of at least one CCCU school that has made this an option for a transgender student on their campus.
- Single Room Option: Allow transgender students to select a single room option, ensuring that they have access to a private bathroom or bathroom facilities that correspond to their gender. However, this option should be carefully considered as it can lead to isolation and exacerbate mental health issues the student may be dealing with. We are aware of at least one CCCU institution that has made this an option for a transgender student.