One of the most frequent conversations housing staff have with students—and parents—concerns roommate choices.
“If people are fearful of whether or not they will be accepted, it’s difficult to focus on anything else,” said Associate Director of Residential Life Bridget Reeland. “Feeling comfortable and safe in their housing choices is paramount.”
For several years, the University Housing Services at Illinois State University has been empowering students with more choice in housing when it comes to gender.
There are no specific floors on campus that are designated gender-neutral, instead gender-neutral rooms are available across multiple residential areas, said Reeland. When applying for housing, students will designate their gender and can then match with others who seek the same. “We make it clear on the application what the designation of gender will mean, and how it helps determine room choices,” she said.
Val Madro, the president of Illinois State’s Pride organization, noted the rooms provide transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary identity students the comfort of living on campus. “It is important to create safe spaces on ISU’s campus for people who are often underrepresented in a lot of ways on campus,” they said.
Reeland noted housing representatives have always worked to accommodate requests for students whose gender identity was different than their birth gender, but they had to be done one-on-one. Previously, University Housing Services was locked into a computer system that only allowed binary choices, with students seeking gender-neutral housing needing to contact the Housing Office “That meant having a conversation about something very personal with a stranger,” said Reeland.
A system upgrade three years ago now allows students to designate their gender in the housing process and to select gender neutral spaces. “This option is much more aligned with a social justice model, ensuring our system is built to accommodate all needs, not just those of the majority,” said Reeland.
The effort is one of several that are geared toward the safety and security of students who identify as gender neutral. Another such effort includes the University’s commitment to designated all-gender restrooms that stretch across campus. “The goal is to make sure people feel they do not need to wait until they are at a certain area of campus,” said Kristie Toohill, director of Illinois State’s Facilities Management. “Restrooms, many of them single stalls, are available throughout campus.” The map of restrooms is available on the website for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access (OEOA).
Those with questions on gender-neutral housing can contact University Housing Services at (309) 438-8611.