Commentary: How is gender neutral housing still not a thing?

This year’s pride week at St. Thomas University has passed and I am reminded of the many changes have taken place to make the university more inclusive for the queer community. However, I can’t help but think of the progress that still needs to be made. What I wonder about most is: how gender-neutral housing is still not the norm at STU?

For those who have not heard about gender-neutral housing, it is not a complicated concept. It is centered around the idea of matching people with their roommates based on common interests and living compatibility without taking into account their genitals. STU has been contemplating gender-neutral housing since my first year. I’m now in my fourth year and I am frustrated with how little progress has been made.

This year STU even introduced gender neutral public washrooms in newly renovated Harrington Hall. This means shared bathrooms in the hallways are open to anyone who wants to use them, regardless of gender. It seems to me that this is the most difficult component of introducing gender-neutral housing. That’s why it’s especially frustrating they didn’t take the extra step to make rooms gender-neutral as well.

This isn’t to say that STU does nothing for queer students. They actually are very accommodating about housing trans and non-binary students in whatever situation makes them most comfortable. However, the university still forces students to “out” themselves during the residence application process. If students don’t identify as “male” or “female,” their only other option is the “other” box. Not only does this alienate students when applying, but it also “others” them in their fellow residents’ eyes, because gender-neutral rooms are not the norm.

What I would like to see is something like what Ryerson University has implemented this year. Its default option for residence is gender neutral. In fact, those applying to residence are not even required to indicate their gender. Students are only required to state their gender if they specifically want to be placed in same-gender housing. This is something students have responded positively to, with almost half of this year’s new students choosing gender neutral housing.

With gender-neutral bathrooms already installed and examples of gender-neutral housing in other universities, I’m not sure what STU’s reasons are for holding back. It shouldn’t be that they don’t want couples living together, because that already happens with queer couples. If they are worried about people having sex, they shouldn’t bother, because that’s going to happen no matter what.

For me, gender-neutral housing isn’t just about queer students, although they are important and need to be protected. It is about not treating gender as something which trumps all other aspects of a person’s identity. Women and men should be able to live together, and with people of any gender without stigma and sexualization of the relationship. It is high time that universities stop concerning themselves with people’s genitals and focus on making their residence experience comfortable and inclusive. 

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