June 18, 2019 | 65° F

'Dorms and Norms' discussion addresses gender-neutral housing

While many University students know gender-inclusive housing exists on campus, not many understand its significance to the LGBTQ community.

Students learned about the importance of gender-neutral residence halls and advancements in University housing during the “Dorms & Norms: College Spaces & The Search For Identity” panel discussion last Thursday in Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus.

The event, which was sponsored by The Tyler Clementi Center, Division of Student Affairs, Center for Social Justice and LGBTQ Communities (SJE), Office of Residence Life and more, included three Rutgers-affiliated individuals, who discussed the implications of gender-inclusiveness in housing initiatives.

The meaning of “sexile” has changed over time and continues to have disparate meanings in different cultures, said Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel, a professor in the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies.

In some cases, the term “sexile,” refers to people being forced to leave their country due to their sexual orientation, Martinez-San Miguel said.

She said she recently learned of the college student’s definition of the term, which refers to temporarily kicking a person out of a shared room to allow a roommate to have sex with someone else.

The admissions policy should be changed to not only accept individuals legally identified as women, but also transgender men and self-identifying women, Jenny Kurtz, area coordinator of Smith College housing and former University Residence Life employee.

Since the Fall 2011 semester, Rutgers incorporated three housing initiatives, including the LGBTQ living learning community, “Rainbow Perspectives,” three gender-neutral housing options and roommate-matching options for students interested in gender-inclusive options, Kurtz said.

Rutgers was originally one of 50 schools nationally recognized with gender-neutral options, but the number throughout the nation has since expanded to 159, she said.

“Those initiatives solidified Rutgers’ position as a national leader working for LGBTQ students who are living in residence halls,” Kurtz said. “They were really well-received on campus and (at) the national level, but (there was) a real mix of media attention.”

Rutgers received praise from The New York Times, but also endured a sensationalized headline from a Fox New affiliate’s article, “Rutgers Okays Steamy Co-ed Showers,” Kurtz said.

“I feel like this really shows how people want to spin something,” she said.

Kurtz said there were many changes regarding gender-neutral housing since she first joined SJE in 2008.

Demarest Hall on the College Avenue campus was the only dorm that offered a LGBTQ special interest section, she said.

Demarest is sometimes regarded as the “gay dorm,” but the residence hall is the safest housing for LGBTQ community members, Kurtz said. The hall also unofficially features gender-inclusive bathrooms.

Rutgers is doing well nationally for LGBTQ students, but not as much for transgender students, Kurtz said.

Transgender students are given roommates according to their legal sex, Kurtz said. Residence Life liaisons would try to give these students a single if Rutgers was aware of such preferences, as the bathroom situation remains a challenge.

The motto, “Who’s story are we hearing and how can we get their voice?” brought about gender-neutral housing at the University, Kurtz said.

Kurtz said she had a meeting with former University president Richard L. McCormick and 15 students in the LGBTQ community.

When asked if they were scared of telling their roommate that they were members of the LGBTQ community, all 15 hands went went up, Kurtz said.

“I was really surprised because a lot of these students hadn’t come out to their parents, but they were president of GSA or had been accepted, but every student felt scared of anxious,” she said.

Students now have the option to click a box on the housing application indicating a choice to live with a member of the LGBTQ community, said Sean Dowd, assistant director of Residence Life.

Eighty incoming first-year students and 40 transfer students participated in the roommate-matching initiative, Dowd said.

Students requesting to live in gender-neutral housing would be best supported by Residence Life, he said.

“We will take the time to connect to that student and figure out how to best help them,” he said.

There are some challenges that are being faced, including how individuals will be placed with a roommate of the same legal gender if one person in the roommate-matching system leaves, and other roommate is unable to find a replacement, Dowd said.

Rutgers is now also offering more gender-neutral housing options, Dowd said. These include the Demarest and New Gibbons residence halls, the Livingston Apartments and Rockoff Hall on George Street.

“We’re making stead progress,” Dowd said. “I can’t tell anyone ‘Sorry, that’s not an option for you.’ I can say at a bare minimum, ‘Let’s do anything we can to support you and help your transition.’”

Sophie Nieto-Munoz

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