February 28, 2017

Gender-neutral housing now offered on campus

Cleveland State University now offers on-campus residents the option to room in gender-neutral housing assignments.

That means that students can mutually agree upon sharing a room with others, regardless of their roommate’s gender. This move is especially inclusive of students who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming.

In addition, the binary (male and female) check boxes indicating one’s gender have been eliminated from housing applications. Instead, students can fill in their chosen gender. 

At least 210 universities in the U.S. currently provide mixed-gender housing options, according to Campus Pride, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase safety on college campuses for LGBT students. That list now includes Cleveland State’s Fenn Tower and Euclid Commons, which together house around 1,000 students.

In November 2016, Dallas Turner, a junior linguistics major who identifies as a transgender female, wrote an article in the Vindicator titled, “Trans is Beautiful.” After reading it, Lynn Ellison, director of the department of Residence Life, contacted Turner, who resided in Fenn Tower at the time.

Turner mentioned the need for gender-neutral housing to Ellison, who then asked if she could consult Turner in creating the policy. 

Turner explained that without the option of gender-neutral housing, transgender students face the risk of being paired with roommates who are intolerant, so they often opt to room alone.

“It’s not a gamble that you can afford to just go into and cross your fingers,” Turner said.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equity, more than one in four transgender citizens has experienced bias-driven assault. Turner explained that feeling safe at home is crucial, although that need may be difficult to express to people outside of the community.

Ellison elaborated further on how participating students will be benefited by the policy.

“For transgender students, it’s knowing that they would be assigned with someone who is going to be open and accepting, so their room can be safe for them,” Ellison said. “For any other student, it also opens up the possibility of their roommates.”

After Ellison drafted the policy, she sought input from Turner and Marissa Pappas, former president of Cleveland State’s chapter of Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE).

Last spring, URGE collected written testimonies from transgender students and community allies to provide input to Residence Life as it drafted the policy. Pappas explained that URGE’s advocacy was based on the need for students to feel comfortable and safe.

“It’s our job as a university to provide the protection and safety to these students who may not have those protections outside of our walls,” Pappas said. “This is the culture. These are the dangers. These are the hardships that they run into outside of the university. But we can do something here, and that’s what’s important.”

Pappas explained that this doesn’t mean that students will be forced to room with anyone against their will. Rather, students who identify as transgender, gender-nonconforming, and even siblings not of the same gender will be able to room together.

“If you are coming home from a world, a culture, a context in which you have these [hardships], it’s very important that you at least have one space in which you can find that safety,” Pappas said. “It’s also an affirmation of your identity.”

The policy was then send to Boyd Yarbrough, vice president of Student Affairs, for feedback. Once finalized, the Euclid Avenue Development Corporation, which owns Euclid Commons and Fenn Tower, unanimously passed the policy in June 2016.

However, before the development corporation could approve the policy, its board of directors discussed the potential impact of students and expressed possible concern that the community may have.

“I think a general concern is the reaction, especially in this current climate, and how to present this to the public so that everyone understands why we have this policy,” Ellison said. However, to the date, Residence Life has not received any concerns.

Ellison said that few students have taken advantage of the option. However Residence Life will formally announce the accommodation in the fall of 2017.

More information on the policy can be found at www.csuohio.edu/residence-life/gender-neutral-housing-assignments.


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