Gender Inclusiveness is Going Beyond Traditional Binary Classifications
Many colleges and university campuses are striving to ensure that all students have the same rights and access. To do this, schools are making adjustments, including developing policies, adding gender-inclusive housing options and bathrooms on campus, changing terminology, and communicating changes to accommodate all campus community members. Let’s take a look at how gender inclusion has impacted campuses.
Developing Gender-Inclusive Policies and Getting Buy-in
Schools need a foundation to address the issue, which includes creating a policy and getting approval from necessary campus partners. Campus Living Centres in Ontario, Canada, manages two campus residence buildings for three different institutions: Durham College, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and Trent University Durham. They consulted with their institutional partners before implementing a policy around gender inclusive housing. “We needed to develop our policy and make sure our institutional partners were on board with us introducing gender-inclusive housing in residences. We had a shift in paradigm from addressing the needs of transgender students to incorporating all identifications into one process,” said Marc Athanas, Residence Life Manager.
“We needed to develop our policy and make sure our institutional partners were on board with us introducing gender-inclusive housing in residences. We had a shift in paradigm from addressing the needs of transgender students to incorporating all identifications into one process,”
Providing Gender-Inclusive Housing
Adding gender-inclusive housing to residential living spaces has had the biggest impact on campuses, as there are many different factors to consider and processes to implement. Schools are implementing this in a variety of ways.
At the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), all upper-class housing is marked as gender inclusive. First-year students live in traditional-style halls and suite-style rooms, ranging from 5-8 students. They have one gender-inclusive floor. “Last year was the first year we were able to build a gender-inclusive floor. We were able to fill almost the entire floor with students identifying outside the binary. We did have a couple of rooms that were open and we filled these rooms with students who opted that they were okay with it on the housing application,” stated Anu Meschisen, Associate Director of Operations. Using StarRez’s housing application software, they customized the application to include two questions for this process:
- “I am okay with living with a student of any gender.”
- “I am okay with sharing a bathroom with a student of any gender.”
“Last year was the first year we were able to build a gender-inclusive floor. We were able to fill almost the entire floor with students identifying outside the binary. We did have a couple of rooms that were open and we filled these rooms with students who opted that they were okay with it on the housing application,”
At the residence halls that Campus Living Centres manages, gender-inclusive housing is available to all students regardless of their hall-type selection and institution. Jaclyn O’Sullivan, Operations Manager, stated, “We have placed gender-inclusive pairings throughout our multiple hall types and residence buildings. We made this decision in order to ensure the community did not feel segregated among the rest of the residence.”
Campus Living Centres also used StarRez’s housing application software to help with the process. Jaclyn said, “The door opened for better roommate pairings because students were able to match with anyone who selected the same housing preference as them, rather than someone who selected the same gender.”
Providing Gender-Inclusive Bathrooms
Another structural change has been to add gender-inclusive bathrooms in both residence halls and on- campus buildings, which both campuses provide. It’s also something to take into account and prioritize financially and with facilities when new buildings are added or renovated, as is observed in California State University – Sacramento’s new Riverview Hall. Anu said, “Our campus is mostly moving towards gender-inclusive bathrooms everywhere, but there are some limitations due to money and time / priority from facilities.”
Changing and Keeping Up with Evolving Terminology
Another adjustment is that schools are changing their terminology around gender inclusivity online, in print, etc. Jaclyn stated, “We learned that we need to be sensitive to language, and that the language is evolving. We moved from ‘gender neutral’ to ‘gender inclusive’ or ‘mixed gender,’ and ‘traditional housing’ to ‘single-gender housing.”
RISD has an international population of over 35%, so culture plays a factor into the language as well. “We have to be careful in our language as students may not know what cisgender or gender inclusive means. American students and some European students are far more informed about identity. Our Asian population has a tough time with this when they first get here,” said Anu.
“We have placed gender-inclusive pairings throughout our multiple hall types and residence buildings. We made this decision in order to ensure the community did not feel segregated among the rest of the residence.”
Gender-Inclusive Living Spaces Are Being Added
Including gender-inclusive living units and restrooms are another important consideration in new resident buildings and renovations. Gender-inclusive areas are intended to make students feel open to live with either males or females within the same space. Riverview Hall has an 8-person gender-inclusive pod and they share one restroom that is designed as gender-inclusive. The first-year students are set up in double rooms with two gender-inclusive bathrooms on every floor. Students on the first-year wing can use the male, female, or gender-inclusive bathroom on the floors.
StarRez’s roommate matching feature can help colleges and universities with this. It enables schools to create a set of questions during the online student housing application process so that students can search for roommates based on their answers. This feature can be customized to include any type of question you’d like, including one about gender inclusivity. Read more about how Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has successfully implemented this feature.
Communicating with Students, Parents and Staff
All the changes around gender inclusivity need to be communicated to students and parents, and staff needs to be trained. Beyond website changes, such as the housing application process and FAQs, policy changes need to appear wherever relevant, such as in mailings to students. In addition, staff needs to be available to answer questions. Campus Living Centres hosts a parent question and answer session to address any concerns, and they train their staff, from housing and maintenance to front desk and management. At RISD, they get a lot of questions from parents, which are addressed by Anu and senior administrators.
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