Gender-inclusive housing creates safe spaces for LGBTQ students


Ken Ditlevson, director of the LGBTQ Center stands in his office. THE LGBTQ Center offers Safe Space Ally training in order to create an inclusive space on campus for all people.

Karl Schneider

Gender-inclusive housing options have become more available to students this semester now that they’ve been added to Resident Services’ housing application for the first time.

Prior to the gender-inclusive addition on the application, freshman psychology major and transgender student Alice Freitas lived at home.

“I wasn’t going to feel comfortable on campus,” Freitas said. “I was helped here by the LGBTQ Center to find a room to get in more easily. They managed to find me a last-second spot in a hall.”

Freitas now resides in Leebrick Hall, one of 13 residence halls on campus providing gender-inclusive housing. She feels Leebrick’s communal set-up makes it easy and open for people because no one has to worry about what a roommate may think.

“One of the biggest things was I needed to be able to, at least for the early part of my transition, live on my own and have that privacy so that I could make the changes that I needed to make and become comfortable with myself,” Freitas said 

The gender-inclusive halls on campus are based on the setup of the building, according to John Hummell, a residence hall director in Centennial A. 

“The buildings that do offer gender-inclusive housing have bathrooms in the rooms,” Hummell said. “We also offer (gender-inclusive housing) in Korb (Hall), and Korb was appealing for a lot of students because of the price point and because it’s co-ed by room as it is.”

Along with residence halls, there are universal restrooms in various buildings across campus.

“Universal restrooms are a godsend,” Freitas said, “but I shouldn’t need a map to find a bathroom on my own campus. I shouldn’t have to leave a hall to go to the restroom.”

Sam Summers, president of the student organization Trans*Fusion and a senior criminology and justice studies major, agrees, adding, “ Gender neutral bathrooms are few and far between. I still have to walk from building to building to find one.”

Hummell said access to a universal bathroom is a big part of gender-inclusive housing, but having a an open and accepting roommate is also important.

Summers takes the idea a step further.

“I would say for binary and trans students: I think it is important that they be placed with someone who is the same gender,” Summers said. “If a trans-man is to be placed with a cis-woman, even if she accepted him, (it) is invalidating because it’s a way of saying we still don’t see you as a man.

Kent State’s LGBTQ Student Center offers Safe Space Ally training across the university. Faculty, advisors and staff of the university can complete the training. Participants of the training are provided with the skill set to help those in the LGBTQ community during their time at Kent State, according to their website.

“It’s four hours of training and those that complete it can sign off as an ally,” said Ken Ditlevson, director of the LGBTQ Student Center.

Once an ally is trained, “the students can see the placards (from Safe Space training) and it helps them progress through college knowing they can be themselves,” Ditlevson said.

The LGBTQ Student Center can also move trans students to different locations who may have an issue with their housing, Ditlevson said. He hopes to bolster the gender-inclusive housing by setting up active living / learning communities for LGBTQ, LGBT studies and their allies.

“If you start off together, it will make it easier,” Ditlveson said. “There is a sense of community and family. 

Around 375 applicants indicated an interest in gender-inclusive housing this semester, according to Hummell. Of those 375 students, about a dozen were truly in need of the service. He added that he spent part of his summer contacting each of the 375 students to help them obtain their correct housing preference.

“What I found was that a lot of students who indicated they preferred gender-inclusive housing thought that gender-inclusive housing meant living in the same building as people of the opposite gender, or on the same floor,” Hummell said. “About half didn’t know what it meant and as we look to next year, we’re looking at rewording how we ask on the application.” 

The remainder of students, about a dozen, who knew what the phrasing meant felt they needed the option to “feel safe and comfortable living at Kent State,” said Hummell.

While Hummell spoke of changing the wording to make the housing application more clear, Freitas felt the vague wording was beneficial.

“If you make it anything but vague, you’re going to not include somebody,” Freitas said. “For the vast majority of people, I’d say, they don’t have the best understanding of gender so they think there’s male, female, trans-male and trans-female. There’s an entire middle spectrum that people forget about and if you try to limit it by definition, you’re going to exclude somebody.” 

Gender-inclusive housing is just getting started at Kent State, and it’s not without some hurdles. Summers has noticed a few kinks in the new housing arrangements.

“The top thing is that (gender-inclusive housing) doesn’t include some of the cheaper dorms,” Summers said. “It looks like it’s all higher-end or single rooms. Those who can’t afford them can be stuck, and a safe place is very important in the trans community.”

Freitas, who just moved into dorms this semester, had to live in the library last semester. She would gather up bean bags on the fourth floor and crash there for most nights.

“I’d have some of the sample shampoos and shower at the (Student Recreation and Wellness Center),” Freitas said. “I’d also try to find some free food on campus.”

Freitas said the costs of gender-inclusive housing can be too high. 

“For a college student, especially, that’s prohibitive,” she said. “There are a lot of small barriers that make it hard. They should make cheaper dorms available for gender-inclusive housing and find a way to waive the housing application fee.”

Contact Karl Schneider at [email protected].