(Author’s note: This article was sent to a department of education advocacy agency in order to help them advocate for better public policy. I have decided to reprint it here…for various reasons, many of which I hope will become clear.)

Hi there, my name is Winter Trabex. I’m transgender. I didn’t know I was transgender (male to female) until 2009, when I got to go to college. The institution I chose- Shippensburg University- required all new students and transfers to start out in a college dorm room. This rule seems to have been put in place because the college dorms were simply awful. The in-town apartments offered more or less the same environment, but with better rooms, better kitchens, better carpeting, better heating, and, most importantly, an option to stay in the room during university down times. No university makes public its bad policies; nor is it even very clear through research which policies are bad. Many times, the only way to find out is to go there and live through it.

Identifying as a female with legal documents declaring me to be a male proved to be a great problem. From an administrative standpoint, the university had to treat me as a male even when I visited with the president, vice president of student affairs, director of housing, anybody and everybody who would listen- including a place I colloquially called the “Office of Social Justice,” a useless office staffed by three people who were responsible for the civil rights concerns of 7000 students.

The answer I got was the same across the board: I had to change my name for the administration to call me by the name I chose. The LGBT group, then oddly named SALE, and later even more oddly named Out There, was more interesting in dating and drinking than advancing social causes. As one of only two transgender people in the group, I had to represent my own unique concerns. No one really quite understand how it was for a female person to be forced to live with a male roommate only to petition the university for a single room- which came at a higher cost.

To put it bluntly, I had to spend more money than any other student just because the university’s policies were backwards. This is, in fact, a form of economic discrimination. The university’s eventual compromise came in the form of putting me in my own dorm room, one with its own bathroom. It was a handicap-access room. That was their compromise: instead of allowing me to use the bathroom in which I felt most comfortable, instead of allowing me to find a female student who would agree to be my roommate, I instead was forced to live alone, or else to move off campus. I couldn’t afford the second option, as I had chosen a sleepy college town where there were few jobs and an abundance of students looking to fill those jobs. If I wanted to keep attending the university, I had to live in the dorms (commuting wasn’t really an option, either).

Nor did the university appear to have an active anti-discrimination policy in place. Not that it would have mattered especially much- whenever I did try to present as female, I was treated as a laughingstock by immature 19-year-old students who still hadn’t quite grown out of the high school mentality. The few Shippensburg advocates who did exist did not appear to have any power to change anything. The school’s administrators took their advice from legal counsel. For all intents and purposes, the lawyers ran Shippensburg University. A lawyer’s word was the law. Once uttered, it became official policy.

Then, too, if I’m going to be honest on this subject, the school’s administrators were scared to death of the parents. The parents were always used as an excuse as to why no positive progress should be made in terms of policy decisions. The policy could have been whatever they wanted it to be, so long as it complied with existing regulations. There was, and still is not, any regulation which prohibits men and women from living together in a dorm, or prohibits the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms, or suggests that positive suggestions be met with impossible intransigence.

To put it another way: the marginalization I discovered, the difficult times I experienced there, were primarily the result of educational administrators putting more trust in policy and procedure than in the daily lived experience of each person. I spent three years at Shippensburg, wrangling with them, trying to get them to see the smallest bit of reason. Though the steps they took might have been more than some other institutions might have taken, I nevertheless felt slighted and unaccepted at every turn.

When I finally realized I was hiding my gender identity on campus in order to maintain peaceable relations with everyone, I decided to pull the plug. I dropped out without getting a degree. Oddly enough, I discovered the rest of the world had the exact opposite opinion as Shippensburg: as a transgender person, I was accepted for who I was. People could have cared less. I came out to person after person, only to be met shrugs. It was not a big deal how I chose to present myself. I found acceptance outside of a university, and disregard within it.

That has only led me to conclude that policy and procedure, backed by the authoritarian voice of a consulting lawyer, causes more turnover and prevents more people from joining institutions such as Shippensburg than any other factor. Schools should be allowed to determine the policies best for them. They should be able to act according to what they feel is moral, instead of acting to avoid complaints by third parties. In other words, today’s collegiate institutions really need to grow some backbone and stand up for what they believe is moral. Those who cannot do so will soon find their choices reflected in their balance sheets.