Gender-neutral housing missing from USI

Shannon Hall

When he came to USI as a freshman, like most USI students, he had three roommates. The difference – all of his roommates were female because USI does not have gender-neutral housing, and he’s transgender.

The junior  asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.

On his records, his gender shows up as female, so he had to room with three other females.

“All three of them knew and were fine with it,” he said. “Which was lucky.”

He had two options his sophomore year – attempt to change his gender marker or room in a super single.

“To get your gender marker changed is … a b***h, like no one knows how to do it,” he said. “And when you call the courthouse, they’re like ‘I don’t even think that can be done.’”

His sophomore year he roomed by himself in a super single, which Housing and Residence Life allowed him to pay for at the normal price, as if he had three other roommates.

He said he appreciated how USI accommodated his need, but there was a down-side.

“It got so boring and lonely. You’re completely by yourself for that long,” he said. “Part of the college experience is having roommates.”

Some of his transgender friends refused to come to USI because of the lack of gender-neutral housing, he said.

Housing and Residence Life Associate Director Amy Price said students do have an option in the housing booklet.

“If the housing application or roommate options do not support your gender identity, please contact our office at [email protected] to discuss a placement that is right for you.”

Price said while USI offers an option, it’s not comparable to other universities who have established gender-neutral housing.

“I was excited that we could offer this option to students,” she said. “I think it helps with student transitions and for students to feel comfortable and safe.”

Earlier this year, Indiana University established gender-neutral housing in a residence hall and a set of apartments, which allows the students to live with whoever they want.

“That is a trend nation wide, and it’s based on student interest,” Price said.

Price said there have been discussions about gender-neutral housing on campus.

“But housing doesn’t always dictate housing policies,” she said.

All housing policies have to go through the board of trustees.

No one has formally pushed for a gender-neutral policy yet, she said.

“It really needs to come from the students,” Price said. “If that’s something that our students want, they need to indicate it through SHA (Student Housing Association) and student government.”

Senior psychology major Alex Kessler came out as transgender two years ago, and he was a resident assistant, which allowed him to have his own room.

But last year, it became an issue when he moved into the apartments.

“It became an issue because I was told that I could live with three females, as long as they were my friends,” Kessler said. “I didn’t have the three female friends, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable because it’s all about perception. If people see me living with three females – that’s not fair that a guy gets to live with three other females.”

So he opted to have a super-single apartment, and said he felt isolated.

With only certain buildings having super singles, Kessler couldn’t pick any buildings that included his friends.

“Most of those students (who live in super singles) are upperclassmen or nontraditional students and they don’t want to be bothered. I only knew one of my neighbors,” Kessler said. “I’m used to knowing all my neighbors or all my residents. It was just not for me. I had my space, but I missed that interaction with people.”

He said it’s important for the policy to be redone completely.

“I don’t think they should target people. I don’t think it should be like, ‘I’m trans so I get this special accommodation,’” he said. “Everyone can live with whoever they want to.”

He said it could help with family housing as well.

“I think it can start opening doors and breaking down some of these walls that people may have,” he said.