Beyond Bathrooms: Educational Policy, School Climate, and Health for Gender Variant Students
Mollie McQuillan

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

As national, state, and local educational leaders grapple with how to effectively address the needs of gender expansive students, more research is needed to inform policy. Existing research indicates gender expansive youth experience high rates of chronic social stressors such as victimization, discrimination, and rejection. These stressors have academic, mental health, and physical health consequences; however, implementing protective and affirming school policies may alleviate some stressors gender expansive students encounter.My dissertation is composed of three interrelated but independent mixed-methods studies at the intersection of educational policy, school climates and health for gender expansive students. Study One is an exploratory document analysis describing the current educational policy and procedural landscape for gender expansive youth. Using a representative sample of school districts in Illinois, I create a profile of the existing types of policies and the kinds of districts implementing them.Study One informs Study Two, a multi-site interview study examining why some district administrators may support changes to existing policies, different implementation strategies, and potential barriers to implementing policies concerning gender expansive students.Finally, Study Three is a clinical study investigating how gender dysphoria, social stressors (particularly those experienced in school), and lack of social support contribute to poorer health in transgender populations through inflammation and immune deregulation pathways. Overall, these studies will provide a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of the academic environment for gender expansive youth and how their social environment influences their health, an issue of crucial importance for educational policy.
About Mollie McQuillan
Mollie McQuillan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Human Development and Social Policy program at Northwestern University. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in Political Science and Psychology and two master’s degrees, one in Teaching from the University of Saint Thomas and another in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. Prior to her graduate studies at Northwestern, Mollie spent 12 years working with adolescents, including seven as a public school teacher. During that time, she witnessed how schools operate from the inside as a high school teacher, varsity athletic coach, teacher leader, and mentor. These experiences profoundly shaped her research outlook and its emphasis on the multiple ways health and educational policy overlap, particularly for marginalized populations.

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