Chapman housing can better serve transgender students

Matt Burnside, a junior television writing and production major who identifies as trans-male, said that his on-campus roommate situation wasn’t ideal his first year at Chapman, before his transition. Photo by Danielle Konovitch

Chapman continues to struggle with how to best accommodate the housing needs of transgender students.  

The Office of Residence Life and First Year Experience now offers first year students a chance to indicate their needs regarding gender inclusive housing. Students have the option of selecting “I WANT” to live in gender inclusive housing, “I AM WILLING” to live in gender inclusive housing, or “I DO NOT WANT” to live in gender inclusive housing, according to Residence Life Director David Sundby.  

This system, put in place Fall 2017, replaces one that did not thoroughly describe or define what gender inclusive housing meant. Students that selected the need for gender inclusive housing in past years were emailed with an explanation and asked if they still needed it, according to Sundby.   

Sundby declined to provide the percentages or numbers regarding the forms.  

“Anyone with strong opinions about this topic will see numbers as confirmatory. Advocates for LGBTQ inclusion may see preference indication as necessary while those who oppose LGBTQ rights will see this as confirmation of, ‘nobody wants this! It’s just catering to a small minority, so why do it?’” Sundby said. “I don’t want to give anyone fodder to argue against this change. It’s how we do things now because we believe it to be the right thing to do.”

Chapman housing emailed students with different needs in the past to keep their needs on the down low, according to Sundby. Now they’re adamant about openly supporting all students and halting students from potentially impacting each other negatively, Sundby said.  

265 colleges and universities in the United States have gender inclusive housing according to Campus Pride. Chapman University is a part of a network of universities that are communicating through the Association of College and University Housing Officers to effectively pair roommates and arrange comfortable housing for LGBTQ students, according to Sundby.

Chapman University is also listed on Campus Pride’s website as one of 1,036 colleges and universities in the U.S. with nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity and expression.  

The best way to accommodate transgender students in on-campus housing is to ask students their gender identity on the application and base the pairings off of this rather than sex assignment, according to director of Campus Pride Genny Beemyn.

“Chapman’s current housing application gives students the ability to express their prejudice,” Beemyn said. “Also, it doesn’t help if you’re a trans guy and are paired with a trans woman when you want to live with another trans guy; and when two cis people who are trans supportive get assigned to each other because of their willingness to live in gender inclusive housing.”

Parents have called Chapman housing with complains about being uncomfortable with their students’ LGBTQ roommates, according to Sunbdy.  

“Sometimes it’s solely the parent’s issue, otherwise I ask the student if they have actually talked to their roommate, and usually such discomfort is solved with a conversation. Many times, roommates with different orientations find common ground and become friends,” Sundby said.  

However, this was not the case for all LGBTQ students.  

Chapman housing denied senior digital arts major Jesse Herb, who identifies as trans-female, gender inclusive housing in the spring of 2015 because she wasn’t presenting. Presentation is defined as the physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, and body shape by Trans Student Educational Resources.  

“I had to come out to the housing professional I met with because I had to explain why I didn’t want to live in just a co-ed house, which was the gender-inclusive option before the application gave a definition,” Herb said. “I just wanted to live with my [female] best friend. The housing professional said that because I’m not presenting, I don’t qualify for gender-neutral housing. I told her I’m coming out to her now, and she said I have to be presenting to everyone else.”

Herb said the experience was completely invalidating and dehumanizing, and recognizes the university’s vast improvements since that ordeal.  

“Many faculty we have now are very understanding and try to be inclusive, but not all – like some English professors refuse to use they/them pronouns, which is an easy fix,” Herb said. “In general, Chapman could normalize pronouns. Outing yourself can be hard, so it would help if professors presented the opportunity for students to email them and communicate how they want to be addressed.”  

Herb also said she knows Chapman has some conservative backers, so it doesn’t surprise her that easy changes to make transgender students more comfortable takes time.  

“Putting pads and tampons in the men’s bathrooms would be respectful health care for men who have vaginas,” Herb said.  

Matt Burnside, a junior television writing and production major who identifies as trans-male, said that his on-campus roommate situation wasn’t ideal his first year at Chapman, before his transition.  

“I was good friends with my suitemate but when I came out to her as bi, she told me I had to tell my roommate because otherwise I was lying to her. When I asked why, she said, ‘I don’t know, she might feel uncomfortable changing in front of you so it’s important for you to let her know,’” Burnside said. “I never told my roommate but I think my suitemate might have, because she became distant from that point forward.”

Burnside said he consulted his residence director, who assisted Burnside in moving out.  

“I’m seeing good strides. Making a change like this one to the housing application is a positive and easy way to protect students who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary,” Burnside said. “I think it’s a definite step in the right direction and with more push from students and faculty for safety and inclusion.”

Danielle Konovitch

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