Making strides in gender-neutral housing

September 4, 2015 Features

Rollins College. Aerial Photo overlooking Lake Virginia. Photo: Scott Cook.
Gender-neutral housing, on the Rollins website, is “defined as a housing option in which two or more students mutually agree to share a multiple-occupancy apartment, regardless of sex or gender identity or expression.” This practice allows students to base roommate choices solely on compatibility, unrestricted by sex or gender. Gender-neutral housing was made initially available in Sutton Hall for upper-class students and is now an option in Strong Hall and Elizabeth Hall. Holt Hall is projected to undergo a major renovation this fall term to accommodate these new mandates. Several clearly marked bathrooms in these halls have also been designated as gender neutral. So far, the general response has been overwhelmingly positive with only a few noted instances of parents sharing concern for their respective students.
Leon Hayner, the Director of Residential Life at Rollins, elaborated on these exciting new housing options for Rollins students: “We started a pilot program in Sutton three years ago because some students expressed interest. It went very well and we had success. So the past couple years we have been expanding it. We are still trying to figure out how to start this with underclassmen, there has been a delay because of the current way the applications are worded and abiding by Florida state laws. Right now, it’s a special request for underclassmen.”
Gender-neutral housing would be beneficial for not just some students, but realistically the student body as a whole. Hayner reflected on creating a safe student housing environment. “If we are thinking about students who identify as LGBT, one of their primary concerns is being accepted and feeling safe. If we had a system that could match them up with somebody else who would be welcoming, was not going to scrutinize them or jeopardize their safety, then that is going to help their transition right away! It comes down to us figuring out the logistics of how we do that with our software and best match people.”
Conclusively, Hayner also discussed the vast advantages for students. “It comes down to ‘who is going to be your best roommate?’ Living situations have a big impact on academic performance, social comfort levels, feeling like you have found a place and your room is your own. This is why we made the switch. Many schools have already implemented these practices.”
Abby Hollern, Director of the Center for Inclusion & Campus Involvement, commented on the overall impact of these revisions to housing.
“I’m so proud of our campus and the work that Rollins has done to create a more inclusive environment in regards to gender identity. Some of these changes like bathroom signage or language choices may seem small but they make a big impact. Thanks to many of the staff and faculty on campus who have been engaged in social justice work for many years, Rollins has really been a role model in the community. Not only have we been working hard to make changes on campus, but we’ve also added the Rollins voice to creating inclusive spaces within the community. One example is that a group of Rollins faculty and staff spoke at the Orange County School Board meeting where the nondiscrimination policy was expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. I’m looking forward to our continued commitment to inclusion on campus and in our community.”

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