Trans students worry their needs are not met by diversity policy

Some transgender students disagree with admins on transgender students’ health and safety from WKU’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan back in 2017.

Max Chambers

Transgender students disagree with administration officials on trans students’ health and safety needs two years after WKU adopted a new diversity policy to improve campus resources.

WKU adopted a new University-Wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan on Oct. 27, 2017. It guides policies created during academic years Fall 2017-Spring 2022. Halfway through the policy, administrators applauded WKU’s progress, but students said their needs have changed.

One concrete goal for WKU was to “institutionalize the Pride Center and resources to meet the needs of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and ally,” the plan stated.

Sharon Hunter, parent and family programs coordinator for Housing and Residence Life, said she’s happy with changes WKU has made since adopting the plan. Hunter said she’s proud of the increase in WKU’s Campus Pride Index score.

“We were at a two star last year, so we made a lot of progress this year, so we’re up to three this year,” Hunter said. “Our metric for the strategic plan — the Campus Pride is one of the metrics, so we have said that we are shooting for a four this coming year.”

The Campus Pride Index, which scores universities based on their LGBTQ policies, gave WKU 3 out of 5 stars for LGBTQ friendliness but 2.5 stars for policies helping trans students. The University of Kentucky, Louisville and Northern Kentucky all hold at least 3.5 stars, and U of L and UK hold 5 stars, according to the CPI’s website.

Martha Sales, executive director of the Cynthia & George Nichols III Intercultural Student Engagement Center, said donations help ISEC and the Pride Center give trans students valuable resources. They currently offer a clothes closet, food pantry and LGBTQ friendly Living Learning Community that stays open during fall, winter and spring breaks.

“Donations help students with needs that they may have,” Sales said. “We’ve had donors who provide shelter, clothing for transgender students or students that might need it period, food and other resources.”

But students involved in WKU’s Queer Student Union and Trans-Nonbinary Group feel that WKU’s administration needs to re-evaluate what trans students need.

Mark Clark, a junior and the president of the Trans-Nonbinary Group, said trans students still need basic resources to help them transition. He says that so far TNB has funded transition efforts for its members through fundraising.

“Although the administration does provide important things, they haven’t necessarily provided a lot of things that trans students immediately need,” Clark said. “I feel like that’s mostly been done by the clubs.”

Clark said TNB has used donated funds to pay for legal name changes and purchase chest binders, compression undergarments used to flatten breast tissue. Many trans people consider binders essential to their daily lives, but Clark said trans students who aren’t members of QSU may not know TNB can fund them.

“Any resources that we do have aren’t very heavily advertised outside of the Pride Center and other places on campus,” Clark said. “And resources that are provided have been because we provide them ourselves or because trans students had to push really hard for them to become a thing.”

Clark said he and other Queer Student Union members have pushed to improve the preferred name change process. Clark said the preferred name system was used mostly by students who go by their middle name, and it was difficult to convince ID Center employees to use non-legal names on student IDs. Students can now submit their preferred name change request via TopNet and get their new ID a few days later.

Eli Edens, a sophomore and the secretary of TNB, said a big change they want is regular updates to WKU’s “Resources for Transgender Students” webpage.

“It hasn’t been updated in probably years,” Edens said. “There used to be an update of gender-neutral bathrooms and things like that, but it’s kind of fallen under disrepair and been neglected.”

Administrators and trans students both see the need for a student health- care policy that covers hormone replacement therapy. Hunter said there is no coverage for HRT under the 2019-2020 student healthcare plan through UnitedHealthcare Student Resources.

“We don’t have anyone who prescribes hormones right now,” Hunter said. “Finding a prescriber, that’s number one. The trans healthcare and support is an area that has always been ripe for improvement. But I am happy to say that we are making progress.”

Copy Desk Chief Max Chambers can be reached at [email protected]. Follow them on Twitter at @chambers_max_e.