Associate professor Allen Fromherz has heard various stories of students being attacked because of their sexuality or gender identity. Fromherz said some even inflicted self harm due to the condemnation they faced because of their identity.
After prospective study abroad students deterred from studying at Georgia State because of its lack of gender-inclusive housing, Fromherz began to advocate for change.
Now, University Housing will lead a new initiative in fall 2015 to provide gender-inclusive dorms.
Marilyn De LaRoche, director of University Housing, said opposite genders and sexes will have the opportunity to share the same apartment, suite or room based on a resident’s request.
“It is a choice. We are not forcing it on anyone,” she said. “We are not changing everything so everybody will have to wonder if I am going to be put in gender-inclusive housing. No. If you are not interested, it’s something you don’t have to be involved in.”
Students who want to live in gender-inclusive housing would check a box in the housing application. An agreement form would then be sent to the person’s email. After agreeing to the terms, students would then be able to search for a roommate who also wants to live in gender-inclusive housing in the online roommate matching system, according to De LaRoche.
Gender-inclusive housing is limited to space availability and the ability for housing to meet the accommodation requests of students.
The initiative’s beginnings
Georgia State was prompted to offer gender inclusive housing because students expressed their need for it, according to De LaRoche.
“We have a diverse group of students and with our current policy it was not inclusive of those who are looking for a different type of housing program. So that prompted us to look into what are offering and how we are meeting the needs of our students,” she said.
She also said University Housing’s goal for gender inclusiveness is to meet the needs of students and to offer additional accomodations.
“We are looking to enact policies and practices consistent with the university’s diversity statement which honors federally protected statuses and goes beyond them to include gender identity, expression and the socio-economical class. So, we’re looking to be totally inclusive,” she said.
Darryl Holloman, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, also said the initiative is to create inclusive housing options for Georgia State’s student body.
“This decision was made after consultation with various University constituents, which included the voices of various student groups,” he said.
Proposers of the plan
Justice for the Student Judicial Board and Advocacy Chairperson at the university’s Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Matthew Williams, said he was one of the individuals who approached Holloman about the matter.
Williams also said he was advocating for his friends and something he believed in.
“This is not something that would necessarily profit me or do me any good because I don’t live on campus. But there are so many people around campus that has approached me about this,” he said.
Fromherz said after approaching Holloman last fall, he was shocked to learn that Georgia State did not offer gender-neutral housing on campus.
“I have had several students in my class who have told me their desire for gender-neutral housing. Some of these students were in transition between genders or simply sympathetic to the idea,” he said.
He also said he worked with Georgia State’s LGBT group to advocate for change through Holloman.
“He said things would take some time,” Fromherz said. “However I’m pleased that they have actually set up something quite quickly. It is a good sign. But there is still much work to be done for LGBT students.”
Movement for gender inclusiveness
Fromherz said he created a LGBT safety committee at Georgia State after some students were attacked because of their sexuality or gender identity.
“Tragically, some take their own lives or harm themselves due to struggles with social perceptions and internalized homophobia,” he said. “Having a safe and welcoming residential space is an essential step for providing an environment of security and acceptance on campus. The other main reason is to create an even deeper sense of community, a real home for LGBTQIA students and allies.”
Williams said he has heard about students being bashed in their dorms because of their sexuality. The students were also made to feel uncomfortable for the same reason.
“People that need this gender-neutral housing has been living off campus and those people haven’t been able to go to the study abroad program,” he said. “Like it’s been a barrier.”
Williams said as a gay man he would prefer to not room with heterosexual males.
“I would feel uncomfortable with [that] and I have a feeling that they would too,” he said. “Many of the incidents that happen have been where straight guys or girls feel uncomfortable around the LGBT community.”
De LaRoche said residents should notify residence hall staff if they feel uncomfortable while living in University Housing.
“We [will] look to see if we can find other alternative housing for them on campus,” she said.
Maturity level is important for gender neutral housing as well as an understanding of boundaries, according to Williams.
“As far as our community, the LGBT community, I don’t see an issue arising as from that,” he said. “The only issue I see arising is privacy but you know if the paperwork is done and compatibilities are matched up right on those floors. There shouldn’t be any issues.”