Transgender students may face a particularly difficult road ahead on college campuses this fall. Recent headlines highlight some disturbing trends that could undermine the rights and protections for gender nonconforming (GNC) students. These include the rescinding of Obama-era federal guidance for schools, as well a move to ban openly transgender citizens from serving in the military (now pending a federally-funded study), and could have far-reaching impact for a population that is already underserved.
GNC students have been found to be at increased risk for sexual and physical victimization/abuse, minority stress, and misperceived social norms which, in part, may contribute to their higher rates of alcohol use and alcohol-related harms. Typically, it has been difficult to study this sub-population as their numbers among the general population are quite low. However, EVERFI’s national dataset of student survey responses represents the largest collection of alcohol-related behaviors in the world, enabling us to acquire a sizeable sample of GNC students to compare to their cisgender peers.
In collaboration with the Consortium for the Study of the American College Student (CSACS) at Duke University, EVERFI examined over 400,000 first-year students from 370 colleges and universities and found that transgender students drank more frequently and in greater quantities than their cisgender peers. Transgender students were more likely to report an alcohol-related blackout (ARB) than cisgender students, as well as more negative alcohol-related academic and social outcomes. Further, where cisgender students primarily drank for social reasons such as celebration and interactions with friends, transgender students were significantly more likely to drink for reasons relating to stressful experiences, social anxiety, and bolstering self-esteem. Our findings, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, are important for college administrators and practitioners to consider, particularly because of the significant neurological impact that ARBs represent for young adults. Research has established that blood alcohol levels BELOW those typically associated with full ARBs impair learning and memory to a greater extent in college-aged individuals than in persons several years older.
Given that the brains of young adults are still developing until well into their 20’s, high risk drinking puts emerging adult brain development in danger. ARBs also put individuals at specific risk for engaging in damaging and potentially deadly activities, pointing to an increased need to reduce heavy drinking among college students, particularly among transgender and gender nonconforming students. The American College Health Association has put forth a set of guidelines for making health programs inclusive of transgender students on their campus. Some suggestions include developing prevention strategies to address issues that disproportionately affect GNC individuals in concert with the transgender community, offering support groups for transgender and GNC students, and even simple resources like providing inclusive restrooms throughout academic and administrative buildings. NASPA’s Gender & Sexuality Knowledge Community also provides a wealth of research and resources for campuses to encourage the health and well-being of students across the gender identity and sexuality spectrums.
We recommend that all administrators and practitioners consider these resources, recognize the heightened vulnerability of GNC students and work to provide them with the support and means they need to persist and thrive in college.