Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Southeast administration looks to implement gender neutral housing option by fall 2019

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Editor’s note: This story ran in the Dec. 5 print edition with a headline that suggested the University had already decided to move forward with gender-neutral dorms, but as of Dec. 5 the initiative has not yet been formally submitted to the University for approval.

In the fall of 2019, Southeast students may see a new option on the housing application. After a brief period of surveying student interest, Southeast administration is exploring a gender-neutral housing option.

The implementation of the gender-neutral option would make Southeast among more than 150 other colleges and universities in the nation with gender-neutral housing, according to a recent report by the Human Rights Campaign.

Gender-neutral (sometimes called “gender inclusive”) housing is a term used to describe housing assignments that allow students to choose who they want to live with, and gender is not a consideration. Gender-neutral housing differs from co-ed housing, where students of all genders are all eligible to live on the same floor but do not share a room.

Residence Life director Kendra Skinner said the employment of gender-neutral housing would provide a more inclusive option for students who identify as LGBTQ+, and “especially those who are members of the transgender community.”

Senior cybersecurity major and Residence Hall Association president Trace Gardner presented some research to Skinner on gender inclusivity and the benefits of having a gender-neutral community on campus. It was his research which formed the basis of the Gender Inclusive Task Force to gauge student interest in forming an inclusivity program on campus.

“I think that the community will [be] a designated place for those that identify as or are members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Gardner said.

Before the decision to begin exploring a gender neutral living space was made, Skinner said students and members of a work group passed out surveys, did some tabling and had conversations with students to gauge whether there was enough interest for gender-inclusive housing on campus. Based on the information they collected, Skinner said there is “sufficient student interest” to develop a gender inclusive floor.

Senior social work major Rachel Rigney has been involved with defining what “sufficient student interest” looks like on campus.

Rigney’s role with the gender-neutral housing work group was in student outreach, through tabling across main campus and at the Dobbins River Campus Center.

As a resident assistant in Myers Hall, Rigney has seen the nuances of residence life up close and personal. In addition to her tabling efforts, Rigney said she has been working closely with Skinner and area coordinators Garrett Downing and Allie Wisker to develop the guidelines that will be used to define and develop the gender-neutral housing community.

“Our intention is to create a community for students seeking to live in an open and inclusive community,” Skinner said. “Up to this point, we have worked individually with students to provide them with a housing option that best met their needs, but we’ve been constrained by gender.”

One of the biggest concerns Skinner foresees is that romantic couples might view the gender-neutral option as an opportunity to live together.

Rigney said her biggest concern is with ensuring the staff of gender-inclusive housing is adequately trained and knowledgeable about the experiences and situations that gender-neutral, non-binary and transgender students face.

Even with her concerns in mind, Rigney is confident that a gender-neutral housing option would benefit Southeast students. She said she has heard “much support” from LGBTQ+ allies and few responses which do not support the implementation of a gender-inclusive community on campus.

The need for gender-inclusive spaces on campus is something Southeast has been examining since 2014, when Southeast administration, staff and students conducted research to determine the prevalence of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.

University administration began looking into gender-neutral accommodations for restrooms in 2016, and implemented several across campus. Gender-neutral housing may be a bigger challenge and take more logistical planning than the restrooms did, but it certainly will not be the first time Southeast has taken a step toward gender inclusivity.

It may seem to some like a minor change, but Rigney sees a bigger purpose for gender inclusivity on campus.

“I think that this will give those students a place to truly feel at home and show that the department values them and recognizes their experience is different from many students on campus,” Rigney said.

Gardner described the possible housing option as a “safe and welcoming place that is free of judgement.”

While there are many details yet to work out, Skinner said administration hopes to begin offering the gender-neutral housing in the fall.

“Ideally, we would like to have the (gender inclusive) floor in place for Fall 2019,” Skinner said. “We have quite a bit of work to do to make that happen.”

The Southeast Arrow will be following this story as it develops.