In the past month, the university amended its non-discrimination policy to include gender expression and identity. It’s important for students to know that despite the victory, the material situation on campus hasn’t caught up to the policy.
Gender Protection Initiative, the group that was lobbying to change the policy, was also trying to secure gender-neutral housing options on campus, which more than 700 students supported. This option would have reserved one wing of one dorm for students who wished to be assigned roommates regardless of gender. This proposal was just rejected by University Housing, accompanied by a letter saying the university already satisfactorily accommodates these students.
The University claims they handled this issue “without fanfare,” by placing students in suites or wings according to their legal sex, but in singles or with a specifically requested roommate. If the student has problems with those arrangements, Housing will “explore possible options.” Should a room in the living quarters of the student’s legal sex prove unsatisfactory, the student can move off-campus, as “anyone may live wherever they desire all four years at Northwestern.”
With all due respect, that is not sufficiently accommodating the students. While some gender-variant students have had neutral experiences, others have gone through downright traumatic years in student housing. Housing insensitively refuses to acknowledge that these students have been uncomfortable voicing their complaints, implying that their past silence has meant satisfaction. Now that they’re speaking up, Housing patronizes them by suggesting that the office knows what is best for them.
Though freshmen are not required to live on campus, it’s an important part of adjusting to college. Incoming gender-variant freshmen may not know any potential roommates or how to get good off-campus housing. New students without pre-established support networks are the most vulnerable part of the group we’re trying to protect.
If transgender students do live in dorms, demanding that a transsexual man, for example, use the women’s restroom is an insult to the trans man’s dignity and to the female students’ privacy. Everyone feels awkward at best, and unsafe at worst.
Housing’s response concludes by saying that the system is not worth fixing because this is not the most common issue. It’s no wonder that these situations have been rare when Northwestern refuses to put the framework into place to deal with them. A student in this minority deserves the same rights and protections as any other student. Moreover, there are many different kinds of students that might choose to take advantage of gender-neutral housing. Each student has the right to a good experience at this school, and providing gender-neutral housing is one step closer to ensuring this experience.
Lastly, it is obvious that not everyone may live wherever they desire all four years at Northwestern. Forcing students to move off campus is not a supportive or responsible option –- it amounts to saying student concerns don’t matter -– if you don’t like the policies as they are, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
President of the Gender Protection Initiative