The Importance of Gender-Inclusive Housing
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- Many transgender and gender non-conforming students face discrimination and harassment at college.
- Gender-inclusive housing allows students of all genders to live together in a safe, welcoming space.
- This housing is often open to anyone but prioritizes trans and gender non-conforming students.
- Not all trans and gender non-conforming students feel that gender-inclusive housing is right for them.
Ky Walker spent his high school years transitioning and was ready to finally be himself during his first year at Florida Atlantic University. But the moment he opened the door to his dorm room, it set a bad tone for his time there. Walker is a transgender man, but the documents he gave FAU still had the gender markers associated with being a woman. Because of this, he advocated for himself to room with other transgender or gender-nonconforming students.
However, he said FAU placed him in an "awkward and confusing" situation when he realized he was rooming with two cisgender women. Walker said that even though he made FAU aware of his identity, he felt that placing him with women in the dorm invalidated his transition journey.
"It was a really big blow to my self-esteem, and I had really worked hard to get to that point in my transition," Walker said. "It felt like I was knocked all the way down to the beginning."
Two years later, FAU implemented gender-inclusive housing — an option for students of all genders to live together in college.
What Is Gender-Inclusive Housing?
Gender-inclusive housing allows students of all genders to live together in a shared space.
This option originated as a response to the increasing awareness that sex and gender are not the same. While sex is traditionally defined in biological terms, gender is a social and cultural construct that involves how someone identifies and feels.
Traditionally, colleges and universities separated housing based on binary sex: male and female. However, this proves problematic for students who are intersex, transgender, or nonbinary. While colleges first introduced co-ed dorms in the 1960s, it wasn't until the early- to mid-2000s that housing to address the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming students emerged.
Why Is Gender-Inclusive Housing Important?
Gender-inclusive housing is more than just co-ed dorms. It is an important step in creating an inclusive and safe environment on campus for all students and embracing gender diversity.
Transgender and nonbinary students are at a greater risk of discrimination, violence, and harassment on campus. Being forced to live in housing based on biological sex can impact trans students' mental health and sense of belonging.
A National Center for Transgender Equality survey found that 24% of transgender respondents over 18 experienced verbal, physical, or sexual harassment in college or vocational school.
These alarming statistics demonstrate the increased stress transgender and gender non-conforming students face in life and on campus. Non-discriminatory living arrangements are necessary for LGBTQ+ students to feel safe and thrive socially, mentally, and academically.
Who Can Live in Gender-Inclusive Housing?
Policies regarding gender-inclusive housing vary depending on the college or university. Some colleges have broad policies allowing any student to opt into gender-inclusive housing. Others cater explicitly to transgender and gender non-conforming students.
For example, Harvard University asserts that gender-inclusive housing is for any student who wants to live in a mixed-gender setting, regardless of gender.
Other colleges and universities, however, may have more strict guidelines for who can live in gender-inclusive housing. For example, the University of Evansville, a private university, prioritizes gender-inclusive housing for transgender, transitioning, or gender non-conforming students. The university specifies that these spaces are for students who need them to feel safe.
Drawbacks of Gender-Inclusive Housing
While gender-inclusive housing can be a great option for many students, some may find that it does not suit their needs or creates other problems.
You Might Have to Out Yourself in an Application
Trans students may face the dilemma of being required to out themselves when selecting housing arrangements. Housing applications may ask for gender identification to provide the best housing options.
In-person intake processes that require students to self-identify to be assigned gender-inclusive housing can harm students who do not wish to disclose this information.
There Might Not Be Gender-Inclusive Housing Available
While the number of colleges offering gender-inclusive housing is growing, rooms may be limited depending on the facility size and the number of students. At some schools, transfer or returning students may find it more difficult to obtain gender-inclusive housing when the first pick for dorms typically goes to incoming first-year students.
Frequently Asked Questions About Gender-Inclusive Housing
What is gender-inclusive housing like?
There are many different arrangements for gender-inclusive housing. Each college has its own policies for creating the best spaces for students. Some options include:
- Gender-inclusive apartments or pods within dorms with private bathrooms
- Gender-inclusive floors
- Self-contained single rooms with semi-private or private bathrooms
- Single or double rooms with common gender-neutral bathrooms
Can I live with my partner in gender-inclusive housing?
Some colleges have policies stating that gender-inclusive housing is not meant for romantic partners, regardless of sexual orientation. The option is for students to feel accepted in a community that does not judge them based on gender or sex. Students looking to live with a significant other might instead find off-campus housing options.
Who can live in gender-inclusive housing?
There is not a specific gender required to access gender-inclusive housing. Just as gender is a spectrum, students who choose this type of housing come from a spectrum of identities and preferences. This could include LGBTQ+ individuals, allies, and students who want to live with friends of different sexes or genders.
Will my family know if I choose gender-inclusive housing?
Schools and colleges have a legal responsibility to uphold federal and state policies that support the rights and privacy of transgender individuals. For instance, Title IX prohibits discrimination in schools based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender. Additionally, most colleges have practices and policies to protect their students' privacy. This is particularly important for trans students, so housing applications should keep personal information requests to a minimum. However, since many parents assist with financing college, it may be difficult to keep this information private from family.
DISCLAIMER: If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek legal counsel. If you are experiencing a life-threatening situation, seek help or dial 911.