Gender-neutral housing program still has a long way to go

Applying for housing can be a stressful and anxiety inducing process. Students are trying to figure out which residence hall is best for them, just how many people they are willing to share a bathroom with and who those roommates will be.

But for transgender and nonbinary students, applying for housing is far more nerve-wracking than it is for their cisgender classmates. The fear of being assigned to live with someone that you don’t know, who may not identify as the same gender as you, can be uncomfortable and even terrifying for some students. The best answer to this fear is applying for gender-neutral housing. It provides a sense of comfort by decreasing the probability of transphobic encounters between roommates.

Gender-neutral housing can be beneficial to many students, but the current gender-neutral housing policy has drawbacks. The current restrictions implemented on gender-neutral housing put pressure on trans and nonbinary students to find roommates before applying, and changes must be made to improve this option.

Under the current rules for applying to gender-neutral housing, students must find and request a specific roommate. Students are not allowed to go random and still opt-in for gender-neutral housing. This means that if a student doesn’t already have a roommate, they will be assigned to a room with someone that is the same biological sex, but may not identify the same way they do. This puts the student at risk of being assigned a roommate that is uncomfortable with sharing a living space with a trans person.

But even if you do have a roommate, there is still room for error with housing assignments. As someone who identifies as a nonbinary trans individual, I faced quite a challenge applying for freshman year housing. I didn’t know anybody well enough to want to live with them, but going random and knowing I’d be assigned to live with a stranger that might not respect my identity scared me more. With this in mind, I found someone to room with using an LGBTQ group chat and we applied for gender-neutral housing.

It seemed foolproof until we moved in and found out that the girls in the room next door, who shared our adjoining bathroom, had no idea what gender-neutral housing was. This led to a few uncomfortable conversations, but turned out to be a good learning experience for all of us. Despite the positive outcome, that doesn’t change the fact that this shouldn’t have happened. “For room assignments with an adjoining bathroom, both sides/rooms should be in agreement about participating in gender neutral housing,” University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email this week. But the girls next door to me didn’t sign up for gender-neutral housing, so they shouldn’t have been assigned to share a living space with two people that don’t identify as girls.

This year, the University introduced a gender identity question to the housing application. This addition makes it less likely that trans individuals will end up living with someone that identifies differently than they do. Although this question is a step in the right direction, there are still changes which the University could make to improve the gender-neutral housing program and make it easier on students.

The University should contact students who apply for gender-neutral housing to confirm that they are assigned to living spaces only with other individuals that are interested in gender-neutral housing. By doing so, nobody is caught off guard by a housing assignment where they have to live with someone of another gender if they did not sign up for that.

Another change that the University should make to take pressure off of trans and nonbinary students would be to allow all students to apply for gender-neutral housing and go random on their roommate assignment, similar to Northeastern University’s all gender housing policy. By making this adjustment, students, especially freshmen, would not have to scramble to figure out who they want to live with before applying for housing.

Finally, emails sent out from housing to students to announce their roommates should use students’ preferred names. The housing application already asks students for their preferred name, but the email that goes out to inform students who their roommates will be still uses their legal names. This leads to uncomfortable and inaccurate introductions between roommates. Move-in and first interactions between roommates would run more smoothly if emails were sent using preferred names in place of legal names.

GW is a school where we pride ourselves on being inclusive and the idea of a gender-neutral housing policy sets a precedent for other universities to follow. But in order to have a significant impact, the gender-inclusive policies implemented must be able to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for all students.

Kris Brodeur, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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