Final project for working at LancasterOnline; it was never published.
Peter Fair was excited to attend Millersville University in the Fall of 2015. He said it was his first experience at a “real college.”
When Fair got to Millersville, however, things were less than ideal. He realized that he often had to ask professors to not make jokes at the expense of transgender people such as himself.
“I also had classes where I felt as if the teacher was using the knowledge of my trans status to force myself to come out and show that my opinion on some of the things we were discussing was a valid opinion,” Fair said.
Fair’s story is not uncommon, however.
Title IX of the Education Amendments requires all schools to ensure emotional and physical safety regardless of gender or sex; the law has always extended to transgender people, said Armenta Hinton, Title IX coordinator for Elizabethtown college.
“It’s obviously an issue of training,” said Hinton.
According to a biennial report released by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), in 2013 more than 75 percent of the 7,898 transgender students surveyed felt unsafe at their university.
Another student, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, had a similar experience to Fair while attending Elizabethtown in 2013.
“Based upon my time there, I honestly can’t consider it a safe place for trans students,” the anonymous source said. He was only out to few people.
The professors were a large part of the problem for the student, who had only confided his identity to a few people at the time.
“My experiences with the professors at Elizabethtown have been ones that have necessitated involvement on my part to educate them about trans experiences,” the anonymous source said.
In a “Dear Colleague,” letter, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice outlined the intricacies of handling transgender policies on the university level. The document requires all schools that get federal funding to comply by Title IX, and enforces the inclusion of transgender individuals.
According to the letter, schools must allow students to participate in activities and in classrooms as the gender with which they identify.
However, despite these rules and regulations in place, many several local transgender students are not feeling safe at their universities, and stories along the lines of Fair’s and the anonymous source’s are becoming increasingly prevalent.
On a university level, transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom that is consistent with their gender identity, according to the “Dear Colleague” letter. Some universities offer gender-neutral bathrooms, but are not required by law to do so.
All federally funded universities are required to uphold this policy.
Some universities, such as Elizabethtown College and Millersville University, have gender-neutral bathrooms for those who would feel unsafe using a conventional bathroom.
While many local universities have recently focused on the importance of gender-neutral housing, the anonymous source said it hasn’t come soon enough.
“I think it’s certainly a good step, but I’m not sure it’s enough,” said the anonymous source.
According to the “Dear Colleague” letter, a school must allow students to access housing consistent with their gender identity and cannot force them to live alone.
Gender-neutral housing is not required under Title IX, however some schools in the area offer it at no extra charge to students.
Millersville University and Elizabethtown College both offer gender-neutral housing. Franklin & Marshall does not.
Gender-neutral, or gender-inclusive housing varies by school. Elizabethtown allows all of their townhouses and two floors of a dorm building to be gender-inclusive, meaning people of any gender can share a room or a suite together.
Leah Scaralia, a 19-year-old non-binary sophomore at Franklin & Marshall, said that the lack of gender-neutral housing is uncomfortable.
Non-binary is used as an all-encompassing term for those who identify with a gender that is neither masculine or feminine exclusively, or those who do not want to put a name to their gender, according to nonbinary.org.
“What would really help us trans folks feel comfortable would be evidence that we have options for being addressed by our preferred names and pronouns and evidence that it is possible to work out agreements on gender-neutral housing without always having to give an arm and a leg to alter the current systems,” Scaralia said.
Preferred name policy
Many of those who identify as transgender go by a name that is different from their name given at birth. For those who are transitioning, or are wearing clothes that identify with their gender identity, being called by their preferred name can be invaluable in regard to safety.
Calling someone their birth name when they identify with another name can “out” the student, or, let people know their transgender status.
As of now, without a legal name change, most universities will not change a student’s name or biological sex. There are 153 universities in the United States that will allow a student to use a chosen first name, instead of their birth name, on campus documents and rosters.
No Lancaster County schools are on that list.
Armenta Hinton, Title IX coordinator at Elizabethtown College, said that she and her team would work with students and “honor the student’s request” to be called their preferred name.
Fair said that the implementation of a preferred name policy is important, especially in regard to the portal in which to do online classes, called Desire2Learn. As of now, the Millersville system includes a student’s full birth name.
“We had a half-online class and I was like … thank you for this, now everyone knows I’m trans,” Fair said.
Bob Wood, Title IX coordinator of Millersville University, said that there is a process that transgender students could go through to get their name changed on records.
Franklin & Marshall did not immediately respond to any interview requests.
Ariek Norwood, an agender junior at Franklin & Marshall, said that a preferred name policy would be ideal. A person who goes by agender does not identify with a gender.
“I would prefer a preferred name policy since my true name has a different initial than my birth name,” Norwood said. “I usually email my professors ahead of time with my name and pronouns so that my professors don’t even mention my birthname.”
Sometimes, transgender students choose to share their preferred pronouns with their classmates at the beginning of a course, too. “I also announce my pronouns when doing introductions in class, but that is really awkward since no one else does,” Norwood said.
Safety and resources for transgender students
According to Bob Wood, workers at Millersville are immersed in sensitivity and awareness training. The counselors and psychologists on campus are all LGBTQIA-friendly, according to Millersville’s website; though, no counselors specialize in LGBT issues.
Millersville University offers “Safe Zone” papers, which feature an inverted triangle on a rainbow background, that can be voluntarily placed outside of a professor’s office.
Professors with these papers outside of their office are saying that they are open and sensitive in regard to speaking to those in the LGBT community.
Elizabethtown College also offers Safe Zone training, and as of now, 30 out of 137 professors are certified in this training, according to E-Town’s website.
Their site also offers a resource page that illustrates who to contact to change one’s name on school records and how to apply for gender-inclusive housing. It also lists the locations of the gender-neutral bathrooms for students to access, according to Elizabethtown’s Title IX coordinator, Hinton.
Franklin & Marshall did not immediately respond to an interview request. Its website provides information for an Allies Resource Center that provides information for outside LGBT groups and hosts LGBT-friendly events.
“It seems to me that F&M has been amenable to certain changes on an individual basis,” Scaralia said. “But just because a system isn’t working against a person doesn’t mean it is working for them, either … I don’t feel that others are actively trying to hurt me. But I wouldn’t say that I feel safe,” Scaralia said.
“Each trans student has a different experience.”