'Ask Me': What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know

Ask Me

September 03, 2015

Julia Schmalz
Transgender and gender-nonbinary students share what keeps them from feeling safe and thriving on campus.

The federal law known as Title IX is meant to protect students from discrimination based on their gender identity. But many gay, lesbian, and transgender students say they face an array of challenges and safety issues on their campuses. The Chronicle interviewed more than a dozen of them to hear more about what keeps them from thriving in college. Here’s a glance at some of the many issues they talked about:

‘More Shades of Lavender’

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of the advocacy group Campus Pride, says research data are driven by binary thinking that does not reflect the increasingly varied identities that students are embracing. "Society is changing how we view gender identity and expression, and these young people are speaking out," he says. "There are more shades of lavender out there."

Diversity in Academe: Transgender on Campus

View more coverage of the voices of transgender students and academics as they gain visibility on campuses and elsewhere.

What’s in a Name?

D.A. Dirks, co-chair of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, says accommodating a student's desire for a name change can seem like a small issue — but it's really a major one. “Say you’re a student who lives on campus with your legal name, and then you want to go through a name change. The hoops you go through — sometimes it works in the system and sometimes it doesn’t. It can be dispiriting.” College staff members, D.A. Dirks says, need to learn why that change is important.

Housing Concerns

How can colleges make students feel good about their living arrangements? Offer them choices, D.A. Dirks says. Many institutions have gone from offering single-bedroom options to suites. “If it’s about being with engineers, they can be with engineers. If it’s about being with students who you identify with, they should be with students they identify with." The key, D.A. Dirks says, lies in "making informed decisions about students and how they are happy on campus.”

A Need for Resources and a Dedicated Staff

Campus Pride estimates that there are more than 200 campuses with resource centers dedicated to the concerns of gay, lesbian, and transgender students. Dozens more employ full- or part-time staff members whose duties include those issues, the group says. D.A. Dirks sees some progress but says campuses need to strengthen their commitments to the LGBTQ population, since that work is often done by volunteers.

(A transcript of the video above is available here.)


Julia Schmalz is a multimedia producer. She tells stories with photos, audio, and video. Follow her on Twitter @jschmalz09, or email her at