I am a mixed-race, disabled, transfemme individual living in the United States.
During my initial college search around 2014, I would sometimes experience an odd, almost physical sensation while touring campuses around the country. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about the experience felt very alienating. I didn’t feel like I belonged there, and I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.
As a trans person, it’s very difficult for me to just “be myself” in public. I’ve been systemically harassed by police, accosted by strangers, and denied access to public spaces. I’ve been denied employment, denied the right to self-identify on official documents, and denied the right to live authentically. I’ve been denied the right to be myself, and I’ve been denied the right to be safe.
To exist freely and authentically is not often a privilege that is allowed to a trans prospective student. It can be hard to let one’s guard down far enough to participate in the college experience, to make friends, to build connections, to ask questions. You never know what latent prejudice lies behind a passing remark, and you’re always expected to be a spokesperson for your entire community. It’s exhausting.
This is the aspect of the trans education experience that must be discussed; the college experience is difficult for everybody, but students in minority groups must contend with increased stress levels and environmental diffculties outside of assignments and campus life. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, which occur more frequently in trans populations due to our targeted minority status, can present difficulties in executive function. This results in students who may appear to be floundering to the outside observer, but who are in fact trying their best against impossible odds.
In my search for grauduate schools, I’ve found that the same issues persist. Even some of the most inclusive colleges and universities are not always necessarily affirming in their systemic assumptions. When entering information into paperwork, forms, and applications, I am often forced to choose from a limited number of options which do not accurately reflect the reality of my demographics and identity. This can be frustrating and confusing at best, or retraumatizing and dysphoria-inducing at worst.
I am often asked to provide documentation of my identity, which can be difficult to obtain for many trans individuals. The process of obtaining legal documentation of my identity is expensive, and can take years. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can afford to pursue the process, but many trans prospective students are not. This can be an invisible barrier to entry which is difficult to overcome.
It is my hope that by sharing information about these issues, I can help make these invisible barriers more evident. Access to information and higher education must be equitable, and it is our responsibility as a society to make sure that our students are not being held back by systemic issues which are out of their control. Let’s share our voices and our experiences, and together we can create a more equitable world for all.
This editorial was originally published on the Sintelligent Design weblog.