Best Practices

The American College Health Association met in Austin, TX at the end of last week for their annual meeting. On Friday the campus health professionals discussed how to effect change on their campuses to make them more inclusive for transgender students.

Many people don't notice if a restroom is labeled gender neutral. To a transgender student, though, that sign could make the difference about whether they deliberately dehydrate to avoid using the bathroom. A campus doctor asking transgender students their preferred pronoun could reassure them enough to return if they suffer a medical emergency.

Academe nationwide has started identifying small ways to create campuses more welcoming for transgender students as they emerge as a more visible presence and voice their expectations.

But colleges and universities do not all keep to the same pace, depending on support from administrators and the size and will of staff to move on some of these issues. At the annual meeting of campus health professionals here, discussion Friday centered on how to bring simple changes to campuses -- regardless of area political leanings -- that would ensure more inclusivity for transgender students.

Every detail, from pronouns to access to care and access to bathrooms, everything implies the difference between an affirming space where our lives are celebrated and a nonaffirming space.

Anything we can do, from changing a brochure to including pronouns in an email, is an incredible step forward.

--Sebastián Colón-Otero, a therapist at the University of Texas at Austin who identifies as a transgender man.

The ACHA administers a countrywide survey of student health. In 2013 that survey revealed that the transgender population reported more mental health-related issues and more harassment (both physical and verbal) than cisgender students.

But 50 percent of those transgender students surveyed also indicated they visited their campus mental health centers or something similar, which could be an outlet for university officials to connect those students to other campus resources, said Jenna Messman, the sexual health programs coordinator at the University of Maryland, College Park. Messman led the talk on Friday.

The ACHA has released guidelines for assisting transgender students, namely that they should be offered health insurance for hormones and surgical procedures, and medical records should match their gender identity. The association also urges continual training and drafting transgender-specific medical policies.

Campus politics -- such as religious affiliation -- and size can be barriers.

--Messman

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