The transgender bathroom debate is coming to residence halls

Gender-inclusive housing accommodates transgender students and mixed-gender groups

As part of a growing push to recognize issues affecting transgender students, more colleges and universities are offering gender-inclusive housing options, Scott Malone reports for Reuters.  

In recent years, hundreds of universities have begun to offer gender-inclusive housing. Now, a renewed effort has placed transgender students' rights at the forefront, with many colleges working to implement gender-inclusive housing for the first time this fall.

In May, the Education Department and Justice Department issued a "dear colleague" letter asserting the right for students to live in housing that corresponds with their gender identity. Institutions that do not provide adequate housing to transgender students risk losing federal funding under Title IX. The letter came as a debate stirred in North Carolina over a controversial law (HB 2) requiring public colleges and facilities to segregate bathrooms by biological birth gender.

Also see: State law could put universities' Title IX funds at risk

"Title IX and the 'dear colleague' letters make all of us, all institutions, more accountable for students who may be on the margins," said Darryl Holloman, dean of students at Georgia State University, which offered gender-inclusive housing options for the first time in the 2015-2016 academic year.

In addition to transgender students, gender-inclusive housing options also accommodate students who want to live with siblings, those who want to live with friends of the opposite gender, and other groups that welcome mixed-gender housing.

"We have students ... who want to maintain spaces where they are with people who have the same gender identity," says Elizabeth Lee Agosto, senior associate dean of student affairs at Dartmouth College, which has offered gender-inclusive housing since 2007. "It's important to have the full spectrum."

According to research from Campus Pride, only 203 universities in the United States offer gender-inclusive housing. But that number could be higher, says Genny Beemyn, director of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Stonewall Center and study author.

"More and more schools are grappling with it," Beemyn says. "It's only a matter of time until this becomes a much bigger issue."

While universities in the Northeast and along the West Coast have been the quickest to adopt gender-inclusive housing options, such policies are growing in popularity throughout the country.

"It is certainly something that has gained momentum," says James Baumann, spokesperson for the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International. "When I first started 10 years ago the questions was, 'Should we?' And now the question is, 'How can we?'"

Related: Creating gender-inclusive restrooms on campus

Even though few college students are opting for gender-inclusive housing, research suggests that this demographic is more open to such policies because of their support for transgender rights. A recent poll conducted by Reuters and Iposos found that 57% of 18-to-29-year olds believe people should be able to use the public restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, compared with 40% of U.S. residents of all ages (Malone, Reuters, 6/10).

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