Niko Powell, a 19-year-old student from New Jersey, embraces a gender-inclusive housing experience at the university.

Niko Powell, a 19-year-old transgender man from New Jersey, was thrilled to discover that the four-year university he would be attending in the fall offered gender-inclusive housing. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for him to have a safe and accepting space as he began his second year of college, being just 40 minutes away from home. However, his excitement turned into anxiety when he realized that securing suitable housing wasn’t as straightforward as he initially thought.

The gender-inclusive housing option, which was a dedicated building, came with a significant price tag of $2,000 more per semester compared to other housing choices, making it unaffordable for Powell within his budget. As an alternative, he needed to find three other students to share a gender-neutral suite, as single and double bedrooms were not offered for reasons he couldn’t comprehend. Failing to find suitable roommates would mean being placed with a female roommate and living on an all-women floor, using female shower facilities— an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

Amidst the promise of gender-inclusive housing, concerns arise as queer students like Niko Powell encounter challenges that raise doubts about the true extent of inclusivity provided by universities. “They pride themselves on being gender-inclusive but when we run into problems like this it’s like, ‘Are you really gender-inclusive? Or do you just say that so that you can have people come and feel safe until they’re already in the system,'” Powell expressed.

The concept of gender-inclusive housing is to create a living environment where students can feel safe and accepted, regardless of their gender identity and expression. However, flaws within these programs can leave queer students feeling appalled, anxious, and excluded, as they encounter barriers that hinder their ability to access suitable housing options. The need for genuine inclusivity is essential to ensure that gender-diverse students truly experience a sense of belonging and support within the university community.

Gender-inclusive housing, while available in almost 500 colleges and universities, as noted by LGBTQ+ advocacy group Campus Pride, still faces limitations that hinder its true accessibility and inclusivity.

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, acknowledges the positive strides made in queer resources, including gender-inclusive housing, since his college days in the ’90s. However, the reality is that some of these housing programs, like the one experienced by Powell, fall short of being as truly inclusive as colleges often claim them to be.

The need for genuine gender inclusivity must go hand in hand with affordability and accessibility, which remains an ongoing issue not only with gender-inclusive housing but with higher education in general, according to Windmeyer. Ensuring that gender-diverse students have access to housing options that are both inclusive and affordable is vital to create an environment where all students can thrive and feel supported.

“They seem disconnected from the reality of the situation,” Powell remarked when he raised his concerns with the university. In response, the school suggested he use an app to find other queer students for potential roommates. Eventually, he managed to connect with three other queer men and secured a place in a suitable building, resolving his worries about ending up on a female floor. However, Powell remains frustrated that he had to face this situation in the first place, enduring unsettling uncertainty.

“They think they understand, but in reality, they don’t,” Powell expressed. He acknowledges the value of having a queer floor, providing a safe environment for LGBTQ+ students. However, he questions why such housing options are not accessible to students with lower incomes. The cost disparity and limited accessibility of these gender-inclusive housing programs can lead to exclusion and barriers for those who need them the most. Powell believes that true inclusivity should extend to all students, regardless of their financial backgrounds, ensuring a more equitable and supportive college experience for everyone.

Nonbinary student faces exclusion from honors program housing
Frankie Perrin, an 18-year-old incoming freshman at a prestigious four-year liberal arts college in Massachusetts, eagerly looked forward to participating in the school’s honors program and living in the corresponding honors housing. As a nonbinary individual, Perrin believed the gender-inclusive housing options would naturally extend to the honors building.

However, their excitement turned to disappointment when a university representative informed them that including their nonbinary identity in the housing application would result in exclusion from the honors building, as it lacked gender-inclusive options. Perrin felt “othered” and hurt, missing out on the opportunity to live with fellow honors students at a more desirable location solely because of their identity.

Despite the college’s claims of being queer-friendly, Perrin noted that the representation of LGBTQ+ students was only 10%, leading them to question the true inclusivity of the housing program. They expressed frustration at not being informed about this issue during the initial housing application process, as they did not want to lie about their identity to secure their desired dorm.

While Perrin understood that immediate alterations to the honors housing might not be feasible, they hoped the college would be more transparent on their website about the limitations of gender-inclusive options in certain buildings. Additionally, Perrin expressed a strong desire for the school to actively work towards creating more gender-inclusive dorms in more desirable locations, fostering a truly inclusive environment for all students.

Universities must take proactive steps to support LGBTQ+ students beyond gender-neutral dorms
While some colleges offer gender-neutral housing options and accommodations to individual queer students facing specific challenges, Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, emphasizes that students should not have to request special accommodations in the first place. Instead, schools should constantly strive to improve their programs, making them easily accessible and inclusive for all students.

For gender-inclusive housing options to truly serve LGBTQ+ students, financial equity is essential. Windmeyer advocates for subsidizing the cost of gender-inclusive housing when it exceeds that of similar living arrangements, especially for transgender or nonbinary individuals seeking such accommodations.

However, merely having a gender-neutral dorm is not enough. Windmeyer emphasizes the importance of universities adopting an informed and sensitive approach to addressing the day-to-day challenges faced by transgender or nonbinary students. This means creating an environment where these students feel safe, respected, and supported throughout their college experience.

“We have now moved beyond questions of discrimination or the presence of LGBTQ+ student groups on campus. The focus should be on creating an inclusive campus environment where students can live and thrive without fear,” Windmeyer asserts. A student’s academic performance should not suffer due to anxiety or fear when returning to their residence hall or sleeping at night, he emphasizes. It is essential for universities to prioritize the holistic well-being and success of all their students.