However, few have discussed the potential impact of this bill on queer and transgender students. As both a scholar and college administrator with a focus on LGBT issues, I’ve highlighted three ways that the PROSPER Act could impact this group.
It could make college less affordable and accessible for LGBT students.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s annual “U.S. Transgender Survey,” transgender people of color are three times more likely to be living in poverty, compared to the rest of the U.S. population. Moreover, roughly 38 percent of survey respondents had a household income of less than $25,000 annually. The report also noted that more than 50 percent of respondents had no college degree.
Of course, systemic societal factors have already created barriers for transgender Americans. However, the restructure of repayment plans under the PROSPER Act may further diminish accessibility to college for this population.
It would create a path for religious freedom exemptions for some institutions.
The PROSPER Act would allow such institutions to be protected from punishment for acts that are “in furtherance of its religious mission.” As such, the bill has been actively supported by numerous religiously affiliated groups, including controversial ones like the Family Research Council.
It could discourage reports of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses.
Finally, the PROSPER Act allows colleges and universities to set their own standards of evidence for disciplinary proceedings that involve sexual misconduct. By doing so, the PROSPER Act could have a chilling effect on survivors of sexual assault coming forward. This is especially troubling for LGBT students.
More specifically, the Association of American Universities has noted that transgender students – at both the undergraduate and graduate level – are disproportionately affected by sexual assault on college campuses. In addition to this, instances of sexual assault are still severely underreported.
To grant institutions so much leeway in setting standards of evidence could result in some campuses gradually shifting support away from survivors of sexual assault. Such a change in campus climate might then also discourage students from seeking resources by reporting sexual assaults.
With so much opposition, the PROSPER Act likely has a tough path ahead. If passed, it could have a drastic impact on LGBT students. These concerns merit a conversation about the impact it could eventually have on queer and transgender students across the country.