The University of Oxford has “systematically failed to listen” to the needs of transgender students, leading to a mental health “crisis” in the transgender community at the University, according to the SU’s recently released Trans Report.
The survey used data collected in an online survey conducted in Hilary and Trinity terms 2017-18 with 52 respondents. As transgender people make up just 0.4% of the UK’s population and the median coming out age for trans people is 42, the SU argues that the survey represents a substantial enough proportion of the university’s trans community for the sample to be significant.
The report found that nearly 90% of transgender students have experienced or are currently experiencing mental health issues, compared to just 50% of cisgender students, with 65% saying the University had a “negative” or “very negative” effect on their mental health.
59% of transgender students have self-harmed or considered suicide in the past, and were three times more likely to consider suicide than cisgender students and over five times more likely to experience an eating disorder.
Stress and anxiety were the most common mental health issues facing the University’s transgender population, affecting over 80% of students (compared to 75% of the UK’s transgender population), followed by depression, which 75% of transgender students reported to experience or have experienced (slightly lower than the 80% of the national transgender population).
The report argued that “these figures are evidence of a mental health crisis in the transgender community at the University of Oxford, and that this crisis must be addressed urgently.”
The same report also found that 63% of students said that they have experienced transphobia or discrimination since coming to Oxford, with 83% having faced discrimination from their fellow students, 29% from academic staff.
Although 83% of transphobic incidents involved fellow students, one respondent said that cisgender students are “often unaware of their transphobia”, whilst another argued these incidents “tend to be from a lack of knowledge or unwillingness to understand.”
Survivors of transphobic incidents were 50% more likely to have experienced mental health problems, twice as likely to self-harm or contemplate suicide, and over 250% more likely experience problems with drug or alcohol abuse. Less than 40% of respondents said that they felt “comfortable” or “very comfortable” reporting transphobic incidents, and only 21% knew the proper process for reporting them. Meanwhile, only 42% of transgender students surveyed had considered going to “staff-led” welfare services, and most felt more comfortable with mental health efforts led by fellow transgender students.
The report also cast light on the failings of university-wide welfare schemes, with just 55% of students “satisfied” with the University counselling system, and only 50% satisfied with the LGBTQ+ Society’s welfare efforts. The report proposed a number of reforms to tackle the fact that the University “is not doing enough” to provide transgender students with “the welfare support they need to cope with issues both related and unrelated to their trans identity”.
These reforms included the creation of a centralised “Trans Fund”, improved training for counsellors about the problems transgender students face, and greater provisions to educate incoming students on trans issues.
The co-chair of the SU’s LGBTQ+ Campaign and principal author of the report, Aaron Hughes, told Cherwell: “It’s important to recognise that while student-led welfare initiatives both in and out of college have their shortcomings, they are a vital and tireless source of support for transstudents at the University of Oxford.
“Unlike welfare staff, these students are neither trained nor paid to provide such support. Nonetheless, they do so in order to address a need which is clearly not being met by college, faculty and University welfare provisions.”
A spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ Society told Cherwell: “The LGBTQ+ Society is committed to constantly working to improve the social and welfare support we provide; however, we would like to stress that our trans reps already work tirelessly to create safe spaces both within the society, and the wider university.
“The findings of this report indicate that disproportionate responsibility falls on students to offer support to their peers. Instead of criticising the student-led welfare, which is consistently outperforming trained professionals, we should be calling on the university to stop sweeping these issues under the rug, to take the complaints of trans students seriously, and to improve its services.”
The University has been contacted for comment.