University looks for more student commitment for gender-neutral housing


Brandon Stephens, 19, Vice President of Kent PRIDE! believes that gender neutral housing at Kent State would create an environment that would foster a sense of security to allow LGBTQ youth to better pursue the rights they deserve. Photo by Hannah Potes.

Madeline Winer

Gender-neutral housing could be a reality as early as next fall, but Kent State officials say the issue needs more commitment and advocacy from students.

Greg Jarvie, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, said if a plan passes through his office’s student advisory committee, a gender-neutral housing community could be implemented in the 2013-2014 academic year. Twin Towers, he said, is a potential location for the community.

“I have to take the time and do an appropriate assessment of it before we could implement something like that,” Jarvie said about the plan. “We need time to figure out how to staff it, where we would put a community like that and how we would support it.”

Jarvie said a plan for gender-neutral housing was brought to his attention last fall by Residence Services. He shared it with the members of the university’s administration, who wanted to know more details about the plan.

The Current Policy on Gender-Neutral Housing

  • The Department of Residence Services strives to provide housing accommodations that are comfortable, safe and that offer a dignified living experience to all the students we serve, including those students who need gender-neutral housing, or those who require accommodations that support transgender individuals.
  • Housing for these individuals — as with all individuals seeking on-campus accommodations — are offered based on: (1) their availability and (2) the student’s compliance with published procedures and timetables for applications and contract renewals. Housing assignments are made on a case-by-case basis, recognizing the variability of individual needs and preferences, as well as the fact that appropriate accommodations may be limited in number.
  • Transgender individuals, or those who are transitioning to transgender status, who are requesting a roommate are encouraged to meet with Residence Services staff (the associate director of residential communities [ph.330-672-2520] and/or the senior assistant director of Residence Services [ph. 330-672-1223]) to process this request.

    Source: Resident Services website

The issue was held for discussion among his student advisory committee until early this fall semester.

Betsy Joseph, director of Residence Services, said if gender-neutral housing is to become a reality next year, students have to build a solid case.

“I think that Vice President Jarvie will continue to advocate for gender neutral housing, but it will have to involve students making their needs known,” Joseph said. “If this type of housing program is what they feel would be important at Kent State, we need for them as student leaders to bring this forward to us so that we can take it to other areas of the university.”

Brandon Stephens, vice president of PRIDE!, said the club’s board has discussed the issue, but has not specifically discussed it with its membership. As a board, Stephens said, they support the university’s decision.

Christina McVay, faculty co-advisor for PRIDE! and lecturer for Pan-African Studies and English, gathered information to submit to the LGBT Campus Friendly Climate Index, a national database that ranks universities by how inclusive they are to the LGBT community.

Kent State’s score on LGBT housing — three out of five stars — was higher than McVay thought it’d be.

“I was kind of startled,” McVay said. “ I don’t think we deserved a three. I think on housing, we’ve got a long way to go.”

McVay said she became interested in the gender-neutral housing issue when a former student came to her three years ago and told her about harassment in the dorms. She said many colleges are accepting gender-neutral housing and Kent State should follow suit.

“I don’t care what people think of homosexuality — no student should feel afraid in a dorm,” McVay said. “I think Kent has always been cautious about being the first one on the edge. But this is the way of the future. Let’s get with it.”

Stephens said gender-neutral housing at other universities has proved to be a safer option for the LGBT community. He said Kent State has been fairly welcoming to the LGBT community, but there is always room for improvement.

“When members of the LGBT community are surrounded by people who accept them, they will be more comfortable in being themselves,” he said. “Kent State is known for being a fairly liberal school, and housing plays a huge factor in the LGBT community as a whole on campus.”

Allison Teitelbaum, junior nursing major, said she thinks that gender-neutral housing should be an option.

“One of my suitemates last year was transgender, so I think gender neutral housing is a good idea,” Teitelbaum said. “I think people should have the option because it would make the LGBT students more comfortable living on campus.”

Eric Rawn, sophomore computer science major, said gender-neutral housing could be a good housing option.

“Given the option of rooming with the opposite gender, I think people would appreciate it,” Rawn said. “Some people would say it should be open to anybody because dorms shouldn’t be so conservative. Girls who want to live with guys or guys who feel more comfortable living with girls would get what they want.”

Contact Madeline Winer at [email protected].