Boston University Leverages StarRez to Provide Gender Affirming Housing Options to Students

Learn how Boston University used expanded student demographic data within StarRez to create a new gender affirming housing process.
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Key Highlights

200+

Beds allocated to gender affirming placements during the housing selection process.

475+

Students selected either gender affirming or gender-neutral housing.

4

Unique housing selection processes ensure student satisfaction and inclusion.

3+

Custom fields added so important student demographic data is readily available to staff.

Boston University
Region
Northeast, USA
Industry
Higher Education
Beds
12,500
Active Since
2015
Integrations
No items found.

Boston University (BU) is a leading private research university founded in 1839. It spans a 140-acre campus with 300 campus buildings, including 12 undergraduate schools and colleges. Almost 37,000 students are enrolled at Boston University. Over 12,500 beds are available for graduate and undergraduate students in traditional, suite-style, and apartment-style residences. Undergraduates are guaranteed on-campus housing for all four years if they choose. There are six functional areas of BU’s housing operation, including Assignments, Residential Safety, Technology, Residential Services, Fiscal, and Terrier Card Office.

Student Requests & Expanded Demographic Data Prompted the Need for a New Process

Within the last few years, Boston University experienced an uptick in student requests for more nonbinary and transgender housing options. In addition, they realized they needed to expand university demographic data to include additional genders, pronouns, and preferred name information. The university also wanted to create safe and comfortable spaces for all students to live confidently. All-in-all, revamping their housing process to be more inclusive “was the right thing to do,” said Tom Amos, Assistant Director of Assignments and Terrier Card Office at Boston University.

But their housing assignments process needed to evolve to meet new expectations.

Prior to their gender affirming housing initiative, all rooms were locked as either Male, Female, or Gender-Neutral - which required at least one student of each gender on the binary. This excluded a portion of their student body. While roommate groups were flexible for continuing students, groups were gendered for freshmen and transfer students. Plus, freshmen and transfer students were all assigned by housing staff, leaving little to no room for students to self-serve based on their preferences.

The initiative for inclusivity suddenly took off when Boston University expanded its demographic data. With students’ preferred name, gender, and pronouns now on record, BU’s housing staff had to quickly find a way to leverage this data within the room selection process.  

However, their vast range of housing inventory wasn’t necessarily conducive to a major process change. In their undergraduate housing capacity alone, they have just under 12,000 beds spread across 150 buildings with 50 different room types. Such diverse inventory made gender affirming housing decisions even more challenging.

BU has been utilizing StarRez since 2015. They are on PortalX, cloud-hosted, and serve multiple populations of students. They use at least 20 shared dashboards and 300-400 custom fields. They knew they could manipulate the system to work for their new process – they just had to figure out how.

“Every student has different needs. And part of that is figuring out how StarRez can help us support those students in navigating a complicated process.”

- Tom Amos, Assistant Director of Assignments and Terrier Card Office at Boston University

BU Implements a New Gender Affirming Housing Selection Day

They planned to implement changes to ensure all students were accurately represented and included. The team considered options that involved special requests and extra steps, but they realized adding extra steps could put a strain on the student experience and treat gender affirming housing as an outlier rather than part of a standard procedure. "We really wanted it to be a process that was natural and similar to the other students that were selecting housing,” said Amos.

First, they used custom fields to display and hide certain student information.

With the University’s new and inclusive demographic data collection, students can now select “Other” as their gender. And, using a StarRez custom field, they can attach a transgender flag to their profile. “It's not something we utilize every day, but it is something that the students felt was important to inform us. So, we do take that information in,” said Jonathan Richards, Assistant Director of Housing & Portal Management Systems at Boston University.  

Additionally, once a student submits a preferred name in the University's student information system, their name is automatically updated within StarRez. The team took it a step further and captured preferred pronouns in the system as well. To maintain full perspective for legal reasons, students’ birth genders and legal names are also captured. But this information is hidden, so that only high-level staff can access it. To other students and most staff, preferred name and preferred pronouns are the default.

“This is a big process for us to really try to make things more clear for the students and to try to help the students as a whole to have a more comfortable experience living on campus.”

- Jonathan Richards, Assistant Director of Housing & Portal Management Systems at Boston University

Next, they needed to adapt the application process to include gender affirming housing.

The gender affirming initiative added two pages to their housing application. The first page describes what gender affirming housing is. It states, "we will work collaboratively with all transgender, non-binary, questioning, gender non-conforming, and cisgender students to ensure that they feel supported and comfortable while living on campus.”

Gender affirming housing application

Students have the option to select “yes, I would like to be assigned into gender affirming housing” or “no, I would not.” Those who select “yes” are taken to the next page where they confirm their choice and can specify a roommate request. They can also leave a note about anything else that needs to be taken into consideration. For instance, there are times when a student will be transitioning and request a private bathroom or single room for privacy reasons.

Gender affirming housing confirmation

Then, they adjusted the room selection cadence to account for this new process.

In terms of housing, the team opted for creating a new gender affirming room selection day. Which is similar to their gender-neutral housing process, but without the restrictions of requiring a mix of specific genders on the binary. This new process allows any student who opts in during the application process to secure a time slot on gender affirming room selection day.

The housing team specifically curates a list of 200+ beds each year for their gender affirming process and around 450 for their gender-neutral housing process. After the same room pull-in process is complete, the team figures out which rooms are still available. Then, they select the gender affirming and gender-neutral housing locations and ensure that the rooms are spread evenly across campus with a mix of styles (apartments, suites, traditional).

Their housing selection cadence starts with continuing students who opt to stay in their same room – they get first choice to do so. After that, there is gender affirming housing selection day, followed by gender-neutral selection for mixed gendered rooms, and finally general self-selection. Every student gets a timeslot for whichever process they choose, if they are eligible.

Students are Considered, Cared For, & Happy with their Housing Options

Currently, BU has about 120 non-binary and gender non-conforming students in their system. Out of the 200+ beds available for gender affirming housing, around 100 were selected. Out of the 450 beds available for gender-neutral housing, 375 were selected. These processes helped 475+ students feel more comfortable and confident about their future housing on campus.

Plus, the application process has become a catalyst for important conversations. The free text box for additional information has allowed students to share personal concerns that the housing staff handles with care. For instance, some students will relay that their parents don’t know that they are requesting gender affirming housing. The housing team can then reach out to those students privately to understand their needs and provide the best experience. "I have very detailed conversations with most of the students that have indicated gender affirming housing to educate them, and also to understand what their need is and what their want is,” said Amos.

The BU housing team will continue to evolve and improve this process.

Initially, almost 500 students indicated that they wanted gender affirming housing. Out of those 500, less than 100 students understood what gender affirming housing meant and had a true desire to be assigned. The team realized they needed to change the wording and information in the freshman and transfer application to make it abundantly clear what students are signing up for if they select gender affirming housing.  

The team also plans to better educate students on how the process will work prior to room selection day. They are continually looking at what room types and spaces they need to reserve for this process to best accommodate students' unique needs. And they plan to continually train staff on how to interpret and utilize the new demographic data, as well as how to best communicate with students about these processes.

“I love StarRez because it provides our staff the opportunity to better serve our students while creating efficiencies in our processes and having a stronger snapshot of the data that we need on a daily basis.”

- Tom Amos, Assistant Director of Assignments and Terrier Card Office at Boston University

Learn how StarRez can help support your housing assignments goals.