As the university continues to top the Princeton Review’s list of most unfriendly colleges for LGBTQ youth, it can be a daunting experience as a transgender student at UTK, especially when it comes to living on campus.
There is no cohesive policy governing accommodations for transgender students. Most residence halls are segregated by biological sex, leaving transgender and other gender non-conforming students with no easy options for dorms. Transgender students are not guaranteed the ability to live in spaces corresponding to their gender identity, which could potentially jeopardize their mental health and irritate their gender dysphoria.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is the “conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” A transgender student may feel severe distress in gendered housing, especially when it comes to using bathroom facilities or being referred to by their “deadname” — the name a transgender person was assigned at birth, but no longer goes by.
“I lived in the girls’ side of Clement Hall my freshman year,” Andrew Davis, a junior student, said. “It made my gender dysphoria extremely terrible.”
Davis, a transgender man, said while he did not outright feel unsafe in a girls’ dorm, he does not recommend the experience. He terminated his housing contract in February of 2019 to seek an off-campus apartment.
Richard Swearingen, assistant director of administrative services at University Housing, explained that his department is able to waive the residency requirement for freshman students if needed.
“While our focus is on assisting the student in having a full residential campus experience, if the student feels like living off campus is the best path to meet their needs I can authorize an exemption to the first-year residency requirement,” Swearingen said.
Swearingen is also the first point of contact for any student seeking special housing accommodations. Transgender students who wish to live on campus are encouraged to reach out to him and discuss their individual situations.
“Students with questions related to gender identity and housing accommodations reach out directly to me on an individual basis, and I schedule a follow up meeting with them,” Swearingen said. “We have an intentional conversation to understand their exact needs and expectations, and to discuss customized and flexible solutions.”
While trans and non-binary students may have limited options on campus, finding off-campus accommodations is relatively easy. There is no shortage of affordable apartments in Fort Sanders and surrounding areas, and with abundant public transport, it is easy to get around even without a personal vehicle. The university operates a website where students can search for apartments and rooms for rent, and there is a roommate search function as well.
Regardless of housing status, the university offers an array of resources for transgender students. UT’s Commission for LGBT People issued a resource guide for trans and non-binary students, which can be accessed here. The Pride Center is open and happy to assist trans students, although COVID has forced them to close their Melrose Place lounge to walk-ins.
Another important health resource on campus is the Center for Health Education and Wellness, located in the Student Health Center. Both the Pride Center and CHEW offer safe sex supplies, as well as sexual health programming geared toward LGBTQ youth.
The Gender Clinic at the Student Health Center is also a great, albeit lesser-known, resource for those transitioning. It is located in the Sports Medicine Clinic, and the staff can help with hormone therapy and other related health matters. Students interested in their services should not schedule an appointment through the regular appointment booking system, but instead should contact the Sports Medicine Clinic directly at (865) 974-5663. Students should keep in mind that certain services may not be available due to COVID-19.