UNT again weighs gender-inclusive housing

UNT again weighs gender-inclusive housing

February 23
21:59 2016

Lisa Dreher | Staff Writer

@lisa_dreher97

Updated Feb. 25, 2016

Whether the university should implement policy to allow gender-inclusive housing options is back on the table at UNT.

The issue has been brought up before, in 2014, but university officials did not find a solution. But a proposal from College of Arts and Sciences SGA senator Mia Murric has reopened those talks to allow students to live with whomever they want, regardless of biological sex or gender identity.

“I think that being in a safe space around other people who don’t identify with a gender would help them gain confidence,” Murric said.

The director of housing operations, James Fairchild, said if a student contacts his department, requesting accomodations, the situation will be handled “as best [they] can,” but said there are no procedures in place.

“We don’t really have that in a policy necessarily,” he said.

The possibility of gender-inclusive housing has been brought to the Residence Hall Association’s attention before. Four students in 2014 petitioned RHA for their Introduction to Women’s Studies course as a group project.

“When I was an RA and a resident, it always felt kind of uncomfortable for me,” petitioner and communications senior Atarah Fields said. “I think there’s definitely things that would make me and other people feel better, so I think, from my own personal experiences, I think it’s necessary.”

The request was looked over by RHA officials, but significant action was put on hold because RHA, university administration and petitioners needed to research the consequences and procedures. There is now a university committee devoted to the cause.

“It’s been a slow progress since then,” Fairchild said. “We had a meeting or two back in 2014, and there wasn’t a really agreed upon or next step recommended from those discussions. Housing had the responsibility to reach out to other folks across campus.”

The only Texas university with gender-inclusive housing is Rice University. Members of the LBGTQ group StandOut at the University of Texas at Austin petitioned for it in 2012, but nothing came of it there either.

Gender-friendly bathrooms

The university has already explored gender-inclusive bathrooms.

Some were added last summer to the Language Building, Willis Library, Art Building, Music Annex, Goolsby Chapel, Murchison Performing Arts Center, Sycamore Hall, Gateway Center, Discovery Park and the Alumni Center, director of facilities planning and design construction Helen Bailey said.

In total, there are now 134 on campus to make them public and easily accessible. Those prior to the additional bathrooms were located on the edge of campus or were in areas students do not usually visit, such as the Alumni Center, Bailey said.
Facilities is working on a map that would show all of the gender-inclusive bathrooms.

Kinesiology freshman Faye Bernard who lives in Bruce Hall, which has community bathrooms, said it can be difficult to dress more masculine one day and enter a women’s bathroom.

“It’s like, a stressful situation each time,” Bernard said. “It’s like, ‘Do they think I’m in their personal space?’ and so definitely bathrooms are a huge thing in gender accommodations. I didn’t know if it was going to be accepted or ridiculed when going through housing. So I just took it upon myself to talk to my roommate. Thankfully, it went 100 percent great for me, but it could’ve been so much of a problem.”

Those who do not identify with either gender may be uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with those of the opposite gender identity, and may face harassment and violence.

“Say biologically, in terms of physique, [there is] someone who looks more male but does not identify with men and has a different orientation,” women’s and gender studies lecturer Özlem Altiok said. “It puts them in a really uncomfortable situation if they enter a space that is assigned to men who look like men and identify as men.”

But Fairchild said students at UNT shouldn’t be worried. Again, he said, there are options and housing accommodations for students who need help, and that they should reach out to people in his department.

CORRECTION: There was an error in the original post of this article, which was also printed in the Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 edition of the North Texas Daily. We incorrectly stated LBGTQ group, StandOut, at the University of Texas at Austin petitioned for gender-inclusive housing in 2014. The group actually petitioned in 2012. The Daily regrets the error.

Featured Image: Faye Bernard, a student at UNT, identifies as non-binary. Trevor Lloyd | Staff Photographer

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