Students around the country are pushing for “gender-neutral housing” on their college campuses, and Wartburg should consider the housing option as well.
On Sept. 13, students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill marched in protest of the Board of Governors’ ban on gender-neutral housing. The board agreed that there were other ways to make students feel safe and comfortable besides allowing women and men to live together on campus.
That might not be true for LGBT students. Some campuses have become sensitive to the issues these students face when choosing roommates. One hundred and fifty U.S. schools offer gender-neutral housing now, according to Campus Pride, an LGBT student advocacy group. At Wartburg, the policy could benefit the student body and allow for a more inclusive environment for the LGBT community.
Wartburg Alliance president Kate Huffman said LGBT students often opt to live alone to avoid making their roommate uncomfortable.
“There’s always this stigma that all gay people are attracted to everyone of the same sex, which is absolutely not the case,” Huffman said. “But they might be afraid that their roommate thinks that or they just might not be comfortable living with someone of the same sex.”
Director of Residential Life Wes Brooks said Wartburg currently doesn’t allow students of the opposite sex to live together, and hasn’t had any major issues arise with this policy. Brooks has only had two conversations about the policy with two different students. These students requested to live with the opposite sex simply because they’d be more comfortable and to “avoid drama.”
Brooks said these students were reminded of the current gender-specific housing policy and their requests were denied.
“Being a college of the church, if we were to make a change, it would be more than a policy change. It would have to be a conversation with the Board of Regents and the ELCA,” Brooks said.
Despite Wartburg’s affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Brooks said he thinks the college would be willing to consider gender-neutral housing if there was a need on campus.
Huffman said Wartburg has had transgender students in the past, but others may not have known because those students chose to keep it to themselves. She said they face specific issues when it comes to signing up for housing.
“You have to check male or female on a card, so they place you in those types of housing. If you are a transgender person, you have to identify yourself as that even though you may not want people to know,” Huffman said. “You have to explain this to a whole bunch of people and it could be a very awkward situation.”
Colleges that have gotten on board with gender-neutral housing also offer gender-neutral bathrooms and some are even starting to cover gender reassignment surgery under their student health insurance policies. Policies like gender-neutral bathrooms are especially important for students who identify with one gender but may appear to be a different gender.
Brooks said Wartburg would do everything it could to make students feel comfortable and welcomed, but he hasn’t seen the need for gender-neutral housing at Wartburg.
“We have very few students that are in transition or are identifying as transgender right now,” Brooks said. “We would work with any student. As a residential campus, that’s our responsibility.”
As well-intentioned as the college may be, students that are uncomfortable with same-sex housing may not want to speak up to administration about it. LGBT students may already be nervous about social stigma from their peers, or they may not even be publicly out about their sexual orientation. Going to an unfamiliar staff member to make a special request based on sexual orientation would not be easy.
Huffman said it’s not fair for LGBT students to simply live alone.
“That’s also really kind of discriminatory because then you have to pay that extra money for your own room. You miss out on meeting new people and it could be really lonely,” Huffman said. “If I had the option of living by myself and being lonely or having a roommate that may or may not accept who I am, or be scared or freaked out, then I would definitely choose being by myself.”
Huffman argued that gender-neutral housing doesn’t just benefit LGBT students. She said some students are just better roommates or friends with people of the opposite sex, and as adults, we should be able to choose our roommates.
Wartburg needs to consider gender-neutral housing in at least select dorms on campus. Women and men stay in the same rooms all the time, so the current policy isn’t stopping couples from being together.
Gender-neutral housing gives LGBT students that chance to choose a roommate of whatever sex they would feel most comfortable and safe with, without going through an embarrassing process. It would put an end to these students choosing to live alone and pay extra just to feel comfortable. It’s a step toward inclusiveness.