MINNEAPOLIS ― The University of Minnesota is preparing to offer gender-neutral housing at its Twin Cities campus.
Starting in the fall of 2015, up to several dozen students will be able to live in campus apartments with any roommate, regardless of their sex or what gender they identify with. Minnesota Public Radio News reports that transgender students have been pushing for the change.
In adopting the new housing policy, the University of Minnesota will join other public schools in Minnesota along with a growing number of campuses around the country in trying to better accommodate transgender students.
Transgender students “can face violence, they can face accusations, they can face physical, emotional abuse coming from a roommate,” said Jayce Koester, a transgender sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Morris, which has plans to incorporate gender neutral housing next year. The University of Minnesota campus in Rochester already has gender-neutral housing.
Transgender housing is different than co-ed housing, which lets male and female students live in residence halls on the same floor but in separate rooms. In gender-neutral housing, gender would not play a role at all: biological males and females will be able to share living space.
While the arrangement is primarily meant for transgender students, nontransgender students would be allowed. All participants would have to opt in to the arrangement.
Transgender people are born biologically one sex but identify with the other. Some don’t fully identify with either sex. They may or may not have changed their bodies through hormones or surgical procedures.
Katie Burgess, executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network in Minneapolis, told the station that placing such students with roommates who are not transgender can be fraught with peril. Everything from changing clothes to using communal bathrooms or showers can be hazardous.
College is “already a place where I think everyone feels a little bit vulnerable, no matter who you are,” Burgess said.
Susan Stubblefield, the associate director of housing and residential life at the University of Minnesota, said the school does not inquire about the sexual orientation of students or whether they are transgender. But students who notify the housing office that they are transgender are offered help in securing a housing situation that works for them. Stubblefield said she has typically worked out such situations with one to three students a year.
Koester said the housing should be open to freshmen. But Stubblefield said it would at least initially be sophomores and up, while the school works on settling questions about placement and opt-ins.