The University of Utah plans to update transgender housing policy

Story and photo by MADELINE SMITH

The University of Utah ranked as one of the top schools in the country for having an LGBT-friendly campus, according to Campus Pride’s “Top 25 LGBT-Friendly Colleges and Universities,” released on Aug. 21, 2012.

However, Kai Medina-Martínez, the director of the U’s LGBT Resource Center who uses the pronoun they, said the U received a low rating for its housing policy. They said the U doesn’t allow students to self-select a roommate of the opposite sex.

Medina-Martínez said in a telephone interview that the Center collaborates with Housing and Residential Education on inclusive policies in housing.

“We let students know how to contact housing and find safe and comfortable living arrangements,” they said.

The U’s current policy accommodates transgender, genderqueer and gender variant students in finding comfortable on-campus housing through a confidential application process.

According to the Housing and Residential Education website, possible accommodations include allowing the student to live with a preferred roommate, live in a super single room, or live in one of the communities that have shared rooms and a unisex bathroom.

Andrew Kahrs is a housing specialist with Housing and Residential Education at the U. With regards to transgender students, Kahrs said in a phone interview that they work with students on a case-by-case basis to find appropriate housing.

Kahrs said Campus Information Services (CIS) recognizes students by their birth gender, and the U only offers single-gender suites.

“A student can request to be identified as female although CIS says male, and if they have already transitioned, they can live with other females,” Kahrs said.

Kahrs said all of the resident advisors, resident advisor supervisors and live-in supervisors in the residence halls are trained by the Utah Pride Center, located off campus at 361 N. 300 W.

“We train our staff to be aware, and there are resident advisors on every floor to make sure all students’ needs are met,” Kahrs said.

The U’s housing office and the LGBT Resource Center are working on a more simplistic process for transgender students to get into appropriate housing, Kahrs said.

A possible change to general housing applications would be asking students if they would be comfortable living with an LGBT student, Kahrs said.

“Times are changing and people are more open,” he said.

By including a web page on the Housing and Residential Education website specifically for students to see transgender housing options, Kahrs said it’s easier for potential students to see that the U has multiple housing options and it could help students choose to attend the U.

LGBT Housing at Other Pac-12 Universities

The U was among four other Pac-12 schools listed in Campus Pride’s “Top 25 LGBT-Friendly Colleges and Universities.” According to Campus Pride, University of California, Berkeley; University of Oregon; University of Washington; and Stanford University are also lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly campuses.

The University of Oregon has a Gender Equity Hall that is open to any student identifying as LGBT. It’s located on one floor of Carson Hall, a residence hall on Oregon’s campus. According to Oregon’s housing website, this option is also open to intersex students, or those who don’t want to be identified by any gender, and students who are more comfortable living with members of the opposite sex are able to live here. It has gender-neutral bathrooms in every wing.

The University of California, Berkeley, offers mixed-gender room assignments in the Unity House, which is a theme program. Theme programs are residential communities sponsored by an academic department. According to the website, “The Unity House Theme Program is unique to Berkeley and is a pioneer in its focus on gender and sexuality…”

Similar to Oregon’s housing policies, Stanford University has gender-neutral and gender-inclusive housing in buildings that offer additional privacy in restrooms and showering areas, according to the student housing website. Transgender students can choose to find their own roommate and live in the gender-neutral housing, or apply for housing through a confidential process. They are only asked as much information as needed to place them in the appropriate housing arrangement.

Like the U, The University of Washington allows students to request their own roommate. According to the housing web page, roommates are assigned based on the “gender marker as it appears in the UW Student Database and cannot assign opposite sexes to the same room or apartment.” However, gender-neutral housing is available.

On-campus Housing at the U

According to the U’s website, students can choose their roommate, live in a super single room with their own bedroom and bathroom or in a community of single rooms with a shared unisex bathroom.

Chapel Glen and Sage Point residence halls are the only two buildings that offer super single bedrooms, which are more expensive, Kahrs said. Super single rooms and single deluxe rooms run for $4,322 per academic year, according to Housing and Residential Education’s website.

Chapel Glen is one of the residence halls at the U that offers super single rooms.

“Students who are nervous about living with other students often choose the super single,” Karhs said. He added that there’s a possibility that similar spaces to the super single could be built in the future if there were to be an increase in students living on campus.

The Alliance House is another on-campus housing option that is open to anyone with an academic interest in living and learning, and it celebrates diversity. “It’s not just for LGBT students,” Kahrs said.

According to the Community Diversity web page, “[The Alliance House] is a safe place where the things that make us unique are shared and explored.”

Kahrs said, “Most students want to live with someone else, regardless of how they identify.”