When I received my housing assignment for the next academic year, I was met with simultaneous excitement and immense fear. I got placed into a four-person residence hall with someone I planned to live with already, but the other two were complete strangers. It is not abnormal for students to receive housing assignments with random people – students are asked to fill out questionnaires so housing officials can match them with like-minded people. But the fear I felt came from not knowing whether my new roommates would accept my identity.
As a nonbinary and pansexual person, I am part of the LGBTQ+ community and very visibly so. My pronouns are they/them, and I do not appreciate gendered terminology being used for me. The thoughts that raced through my mind as I got my housing assignment were, “What if my new roommates do not respect my pronouns?” or “What if they are uncomfortable living with a nonbinary person?” The questionnaire that GW includes in their housing applications should have optional questions about sexuality, gender identity and if it is preferable to live with queer people.
In a perfect world, being queer would not be a detriment to housing situations, but the reality is that not everyone understands or accepts the LGBTQ+ community as much as is needed to live with them. Some of my friends have needed to request a room swap in the past due to homophobic and transphobic roommates. At Rutgers University, a student died by suicide in 2012 after learning that his roommate spied on his sexual encounters and intimidated him for being gay.
There are many more reasons as to why a queer student would prefer to live with other students in the same community. Just thinking about having to explain my gender identity to my new roommates is exhausting for me, even if they are as accepting as possible. In a space that should be for relaxation, I do not necessarily want to explain my existence, I simply want to be understood. Straight or nonally roommates do not have the knowledge of or exposure to the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community the same way that queer people do, which can make queer students feel unwelcome or even endangered.
If a transgender student is not out to anyone in their college community but has to be out to their roommates, there can be a large fear of this information being shared nonconsensually. Queer people understand that they are discriminated against, and so some people in the LGBTQ+ community prefer not to share their identity or are simply not ready. Straight, cisgender people will never comprehend the risk that queer people go through every day by just existing, hence why they could out their roommates and put them in harms way without even intending to.
To better protect LGBTQ+ students and be aware of their needs, GW needs to broaden the questions they ask in their housing application. By making the questions optional, those who feel strongly about their identity are able to prioritize it and make sure they receive roommates who are accepting and understanding of them. Likewise, those who are not sure of their identities would not have to answer those questions if they are not ready to share that information.
Adding these questions allows for students to express interest in rooming with other queer people, or not, which would therefore create a more cohesive living situation for all. If a student is not comfortable living with members of the LGBTQ+ community, the answer is not that they should still live together so that the straight, cisgender roommate becomes more accepting – that would put students in the position of needing to spend emotional energy educating their peers about their very existence as a queer person. It could even put queer students in danger if they end up with roommates who are not accepting of their basic identity. It is not queer students’ job to teach their roommates about how to be accepting – it is the University’s job to make sure all students can have a basic level of safety and inclusion in their homes away from home.
In its housing forms, Northern Arizona University includes questions about sexuality and gender along with responses like “Not comfortable for me – I would not feel comfortable living with someone who identifies as LGBAQ+,” “Somewhat comfortable for me – I would feel somewhat comfortable living with someone who identifies as LGBAQ+,” and “Very comfortable for me – I would feel very comfortable living with someone who identifies as LGBAQ+.” NAU acknowledges that living together means interacting every day and sharing personal space – having that level of interaction with someone who is not accepting of a queer student’s identity will inevitably be awful.
Just like a student may not want to live with someone who is messy or a female student may not want to live with a man, there are students who do not want to have queer roommates, and that cannot be ignored. This is not meant to preserve the feelings of the nonallies but to preserve the safety, peace and dignity of queer students. This could cause an environment rife with anything ranging from basic ignorance and microaggressions to outright homophobia or transphobia. Queer students do not deserve to have to put up with this.
Adding questions about gender and sexuality to the housing questionnaire in no way implies that everyone in the straight community is unaccepting of queer people or that straight, cisgender people cannot live with LGBTQ+ people. There simply must be a way for queer students to ensure their safety in their housing situations if they are worried about not being accepted. A residence hall is effectively a student’s home when they’re at college – and everyone deserves to feel safe and comfortable at home.
Riley Goodfellow, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions columnist.
This article appeared in the April 11, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.