Transgendered in the Dorms

For most people, the easiest part about the housing form is checking “male” or “female,” but for others this seemingly-simple question is the hardest part of the day. In the case of transgendered or transitioning individuals, they are usually stuck between checking off their biological gender, which they don’t identify with and may not physically resemble, or their identifying gender, which they may not physically resemble. Two boxes, in that case, can be seriously restricting.
In 2011, the University of South Florida became the first college in Florida to offer a third box, “transgender.” This simple addition helps everyone, from the transgendered individual, sick of trying to decide whether to identify with biology or mentality, to the roommate of that transgendered individual, who might be placed in a girl’s dorm with someone who physically resembles a guy, or vice-versa. While most people are open-minded, expecting one thing and receiving another can be jarring. And if one’s dorm room is not a safe space, what is?

Currently, Florida State’s policy on placing transgendered individuals in on-campus housing is to direct them towards the apartment-style buildings, like Ragans, Traditions, or McCollum, which are the most expensive places on campus. The benefit of these dorms is that they offer single bedrooms within the apartment, so the individual can sleep and change in privacy, and have their own, albeit small, place to themselves on campus.

And students are by no means required to live on-campus. Any student of any age can live with as many or as few people in any gender configuration at the many off-campus places available within minutes of the University.

So how discriminatory is this policy? We need to think in terms of a large University, where the overwhelming majority of students have no problem checking male or female on the housing form. To put a third box might help the very low percent on the form, but what then? You’d still have to place them in a room somewhere on campus with a roommate who may not know or understand the transgender situation.

And if you put all the transgendered people together—and there’s no knowing if one, thirty, or a hundred people will check off that box—you’d still be choosing their hall for them. If the “transgendered room” was on the fifth floor of Smith or the second floor of Wildwood, the University would still be choosing the place to put the people who checked off the transgendered spot on the housing form, therefore requiring them to live in a hall they may or may not want or even be able to afford.

The problem is that no policy can change people’s opinions. Placing a transgendered person with a “random” roommate, a policy that matches together many first-year students, could at the very least cause discomfort in both parties and might go as far as causing hostility.

In my opinion, with the overwhelming availability of off-campus housing, most of it much cheaper than living on-campus, it is not the University’s job to try to push transgendered individuals into situations they or their roommates might be uncomfortable with. And while the current policy of directing transgendered people towards apartment-style dorms might cause a financial burden for some, I think that any other policy would be just as limiting as the one in place now.

Until a serious issue arises where the policy has to be more closely scrutinized, I think this rule falls under the category of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

If you or someone you know has dealt with the problem of being transgendered in college dorms, please don’t hesitate to leave your story in the comments below.

by KATIE AVAGLIANO / managing editor
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