For those who attended high school, especially for junior and senior year, or have experienced the pressure to continue to higher education you know the stress that is common during the application process. We are always told that it is worth it in the end, that after the anxiety of applying and getting in some places we can relax and move on to have the best four years of our lives (riiight). At some point came the excitement of leaving the small town that held us back or getting out of an overpopulated city to Shenandoah. Regardless, all of us were deciding our futures for the foreseeable future with some hope that things would be better, good even. We get to college and for a few of us, it’s not all that it was cracked up to be. However, for transgender students its not just a few. In multiple studies and surveys, results have seen significant differences in the attitudes and experiences of trans college students from a control sample. Transgender students’ college education and experience is disproportionately affected by threats to their mental health and physical safety.
Unsurprisingly, all of the discrimination and harassment that trans students face daily takes a massive toll. Mental health issues in the trans community are extremely disproportionate when compared to majority gender identities (those whose genders are the genders assigned to them at birth). According to a national survey of freshman, conducted in 2015, 47.2% of transgender students reported feeling depressed frequently, as compared to 9.5% of the national sample. Furthermore, in an article published by Boston University’s School of Public Health researchers found that gender-minority students (those whose genders differ from the genders assigned to them at birth) are between two and four times more likely to experience mental health problems than the rest of their peers sampled. They collected data between the fall of 2015 and spring of 2017 through the Healthy Minds Study, an “annual national survey about campus mental health” led by multiple universities in the United States. They sampled over 1,200 gender minority students from 71 colleges and focused on rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, and suicidal ideation. Of those in the study, 78% of the gender-minority students had the criteria for at least one mental health problem.
Across the nation the transgender community is facing threats of rising levels of anti-trans rhetoric and violence. According to the Human Rights Campaign in 2020, 44 trans and gender non-conforming people were reportedly killed. Currently this is the deadliest year for these deaths but this record is expected to be broken by the end of 2021. So far this year there have been 42 trans and gender non-conforming deaths due to violence. This data represents the national trans community but violence and harassment of trans students are similarly prevalent on college campuses. In the study, The Intersection of Gender Identity and Violence: Victimization Experienced by Transgender College Students, researchers wanted to explore the rates of violence experienced by transgender students when compared with male and female college students. Using the National College Health Assessment they looked at responses from questions regarding four forms of partner violence, three forms of sexual violence, and two other forms of violence experienced in the 12 months prior. They found that transgender students had higher odds of experiencing all nine types of violence when compared with males and all but one type of violence when compared with females.
While we still know very little about the transgender and gender nonconforming communities, we do know from the results of these studies that these communities are especially at risk to violence and mental health problems. On college campuses, trans students face a level of discrimination or potential of, just from trying to live and exist the same ways as other students. JMU is not exempt from this relation. In the Madison Matters survey, conducted spring of 2015, 100% of our transgender peers surveyed reported experiencing discrimination at JMU. We are part of the problem and there is no running from that. Instead of pushing this issue to the side, please take a couple of minutes to watch the following video of our fellow dukes sharing their experiences on campus. I had never heard accounts so close to home and this helped me see JMU through a different lens.