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Housing processes are tedious and complicated no matter how you run them and often include gender as a primary marker. As more students arrive on our campuses who identify outside of the gender binary… our processes need to shift. In this presentation, we will discuss how one campus has eliminated gender to enhance the housing process and give autonomy to all students.
- Lindy Bobbitt, Goucher College
Good afternoon everyone. My name is DeAndre Taylor. I am the Chair for the Commission for Housing and Residential Life. I’m excited and thrilled to have you on the call or the webinar this afternoon. It’s a beautiful Monday here in Wisconsin and we are so pleased to have you.
I am logging on, or signing on, from the state of Wisconsin, home to 12 First Nations communities, the Ho-Chunk, the Oneida, the Menominee, and the Forest County Potawatomi, all of which are here in the Parkside area, which is between Racine, Kenosha and Somers, Wisconsin.
This afternoon or late morning, we will be connecting with Lindy Bobbitt, Director of Housing and Residence Life at Goucher College, where Lindy will be discussing taking gender out of the housing process. With that being said, I want to, again, thank everyone for joining us this afternoon. I want to thank Roompact, one of our sponsors, for supporting CHRL and, of course, ACPA. With that, I will turn it over to Lindy.
Great. Thank you very much, DeAndre. Hi, everyone, my name is Lindy Bobbitt and I use she/her pronouns. I am talking to you all from Baltimore, Maryland where Goucher College is located. We are on the ancestral grounds of the Susquehannock and the Nintago Nation so I just want to honor that and share where I’m presenting to you all from.
I am the Director of Residential Life at Goucher College, and I am really excited to talk to you all today. I was able to give this presentation at the ACPA conference back in March in New Orleans. I was thrilled with the conversations that evolved from it, some of the things that I was able to take into consideration and the conversations that have ensued after, so I was very thrilled when Deandre asked if I was willing to do this webinar. I’m hoping it just really continues the conversation of how we can continue to make our housing processes more equitable for all of our students.
A little bit about me is I graduated with my Master’s from Bowling Green State University in College Student Personnel, a while ago. I’m currently the Director of Residential life at Goucher College, and some of my hobbies include photography, CrossFit, and improv. I think it’s important, it’s so easy for us to get really inundated in our lives and in our jobs, especially if we’re in housing, it’s really hard to separate those things, so I always like to talk a little bit about what makes me Lindy outside of housing, which does consume most of my brain.
A little bit about the agenda. Oh, I guess I’m going to ask about you first. Before we go through the agenda, I am hoping that I can kind of get an idea of who is in the audience. I think by just a show of reactions or a thumbs up or something. If you are at a private school, could you thumbs up? Okay, a couple of you. Cool. I’ll assume that the rest of you are public school.
The other what about size? Less than 5,000 students. Okay, cool. And then, what about live on requirements? How many of you require your students to live on for two years? Okay. Are there any three or four years? Okay, cool. Thank you for sharing that. It’s just helpful to know who is in the audience and as we go through these presentations. If you have any questions upfront, there is going to be a point at the end just for conversation because I feel like I’m going to say things that you might not agree with everything that I say, to be perfectly honest, but I’d be curious to know what piqued your interest in this session. If you have questions throughout, I’ll be watching. Actually, I don’t know. DeAndre, do you know? Can I see questions that come up? I don’t know if I can with presenter mode.
If you’re able to see the chat, we can pull that up. But as questions come in, if you want to ask if there’s questions, I can definitely relay those for you.
Perfect. If you have questions throughout, I do have time at the end for questions, but definitely be writing those down. I’m going to spend the first little bit just going through a bunch of content and then really hoping that the last little bit can just be spent in conversation because I’m also very curious to know, from your vantage point, what you think of all this and where you think things could be implemented at your own institution.
The agenda is how did this process start and what processes we use? What have we learned and things that to consider through this? How can this be implemented on other campuses? Can it even be implemented on other campuses? And then, conversations. I say can it even be implemented on other campuses because I want to be very clear that this is something, I’ve been at Goucher for 11 years and it is a small private liberal arts school. And so, I have had the opportunity, as the Director of Housing, to have a lot of autonomy in how we run our housing processes. That has been an incredible privilege that I have that I understand does not always exist in certain colleges.
And so, this is based off of our experience at Goucher College and what has worked for us. But I want to be really clear that I recognize fully that this might not work at every school. What I do hope is, from this, you can be asking yourself if this doesn’t work, what things could you start asking? What questions could you start asking yourself about? Are our processes equitable? Are we ensuring that every student is able to go through the housing process in the same way? If not, what do we need to change to start making the answer to that question yes? I just want to be clear about that, that I know that this might not work everywhere, but I think we can all gain something about what questions do we need to be asking ourselves as housing professionals?
What exactly do I mean when I say taking gender out of the housing process? What I really mean is taking sex out of the housing process. I know when we talk about sex and gender, our sex is what is assigned at birth, and that is generally what we’re using as a primary marker on our housing application. Taking sex out of the housing process just doesn’t sound as great as taking gender out of the housing process. I’ve landed on gender, but what I’m really meaning is when we’re asking our students how we’re housing them, a primary indicator that we generally use is based off of their sex assigned to birth.
For so many of us, I would argue for probably everyone on this call, if you’re in housing, it’s the first thing that we use to break up our students to sort them by groups to then house them. We’re using application questions to say, “Okay, do you identify as male or female? We’re going to break you into a group and then we’re going to keep making smaller and smaller groups so that we can find these housing assignments and roommates for you.” When I say taking gender out of the process, we have figured out a way that we no longer ask any questions about gender on our housing application.
The other thing that we’re realizing is that students are identifying outside of a gender binary. And so, it impacts every single process that we run. We can no longer run a housing process on a gender binary if we have students that identify outside of that. It’s not creating an equitable process. And so, like I said before, we are no longer using gender as a marker for housing.
If you see me looking over at another screen it’s because I have notes up. I’m not doing two things. I’m just making sure that I’m saying everything that I want to say.
I also want to say that when I say we take gender out of the process, what that means is from the student perspective. And so, thinking about what processes we have in place that we say from a student perspective, this is what the student experience is going to be. That does not necessarily mean that from the practitioner perspective, that’s what we’re going to see. This is about their experience. But on the backend, that does mean different things as the practitioner. I don’t want you to think that it doesn’t exist at all. It does, but it’s not used in the same way that we’ve been using gender in the past.
The question that I like to ask myself, as a housing officer, is what do I need to know about you in order to house you? We all have times where we have students that, obviously, the more that we know, the different support we can offer. I’m constantly asking, “How little do I need to know about you to be able to offer you safe and comfortable housing?”
How did this process start? Goucher is a small liberal arts school and I went to a large public university. Our resources are different. One of the first things that I noticed when I arrived at Goucher is that I wanted to create a housing experience that mimics a large university but exists on a small campus. And so, constantly asking myself, what does the residential experience look like at a small liberal arts school? Like I said, I’ve been at Goucher for 11 years. Some of the things that we did was we shifted from one gender-neutral hall to one single gender hall. Looking at how our students have changed and looking at when I started at Goucher, we had more students that were wanting single gender halls and fewer students that wanted gender-neutral or what we refer to as all gender halls now.
As the last several years have gone on, we have found that more students are interested in this gender-neutral, all gender housing option, than single gender, so we’ve flip flopped it. We now only have one single gender hall, one male identified and one female identified. But the rest of our housing is, basically, open housing. We took the process from pen and paper to a software. I think most schools have done that in the last decade. That creates an access point that was different for our students that are studying abroad.
Goucher has a four-year residency policy and we have 100% study abroad. And so, we have to think about how do we still engage our students that are abroad in our housing process because so many of them go every spring. We looked at special interest houses, we added affinity houses, and we created a residential curriculum for our halls. We’ve done all this really cool stuff to create a very dynamic housing experience, except that there was still one thing that was missing, in that our housing process inadvertently outed our students.
Is it safe to assume that everyone here works in housing? Can you thumbs up me or hands up if you’re in housing? I assumed, since this was a CHRL event, that was properly true, but I wanted to confirm. And then, how many of you use gender as an indicator in your housing application? I think you can see each other’s reactions. It’s a lot of you.
And then, have you ever had a student that has asked some type of apprehensive question about gender in the housing process? Something like, “What if I’m trans?”, or, “What if I’m non-binary? How does this work?” Excellent. Many of you. These are questions that we’re starting to get quite a bit that we didn’t see even five or six years ago. I’ll talk about it later. But one of the things that I was thinking about when I was reviewing this presentation is that one of the very first things that we tried, that I thought was just brilliant at the time, is something that I could never try now because of how it used gender and how it didn’t really account for our non-binary students. And so, it’s really interesting that the framework of some of this is shifting so quickly because of how quickly our students are changing.
Basically, over the last several years, we have created different housing processes and we’ve just run them to see what happens, to see what can we do with our housing process to make it feel good for everyone. The first thing that we did is we did not put a gender on our room. A lot of rooms are set up, a lot of softwares are set up, that it’s this is a female identified room, this is a male identified room, this is either. But instead of having that, we just said, “Okay, any room, anyone can live there.” What this meant is that rooms were set on either gender, so anyone could pick any room, and that students could draw into any room regardless of their gender. The issue that we found with this is that students could only create roommate groups with the same gender.
We had students that were like, “Well, you’re saying that we can all live together. You’re saying that we can live with whoever we want. However, I cannot make a roommate group with the person I want to live with because in the system our genders are different and that is an issue.” In that, we were still inadvertently outing our students because they had to come to us and say, “Can you override this?” We can and we can make sure that they live together, but we wanted to take out that middle part. No student should have to come to our office and say, “Well, surprise, here’s this information that I wasn’t thinking I was going to share with you about me, but I need to in order to live with the person that I want to live with.” So, that was not going to work.
This is the one that I was talking about how this would never work now because, at this point, our housing was still based off of a binary of male and female. And so, now, I think of the number of non-binary students that we have on our campus, and this would never work because that is now an option that exists within our gender profiles.
The second thing that we tried was to not put a gender on the room and allow roommate groups to mix gender. Everything that I said before, but instead of saying you have to room with someone who is the same gender, that’s the only way our system’s going to recognize you, is saying, “You could room with whoever you want. We have deleted that part of our software, make a roommate group and you can room with whoever you want.” This meant that anyone could select a room and it meant that gender did not dictate who could be in a room together.
The issue that we had with this one is that if students did not create a roommate group, they may inadvertently room with someone of a different gender. What I mean by that is roommate groups are going to automatically pull you together. If you use a housing software, you know exactly what this means. But because we set up our rooms as either, it meant that I might have an early room draw time and draw into a double room by myself, but then someone of a different gender might see that my room has an opening and can also go into that room without knowing that maybe they’re inadvertently rooming with someone that maybe they’re not really comfortable living with because they didn’t select to live with someone with a different gender.
This meant that, on the back end, we had to go through, and this is how I talk about the student experience versus the practitioner experience, is that we would go through on the backend and run a report and say, “Okay, here are all the roommates. Here are all the people that made roommate groups. Here are all the people that didn’t make roommate groups but are of the same gender in our system, so they’re fine. And then, here is a small group of students who drew in randomly and maybe accidentally drew into a room with someone of a different gender,” and then we’d have to reach out to those students and still, ultimately, make some housing changes.
We have things in place. We could say, “Well, we’re going to hold some suites, we’re going to hold some rooms, that way those could be very easy changes. But it still did not create a perfect process because, at some point in this, students who chose a room had to shift into a different room because of a technology thing on our end.
This worked for a really long time. We did it this way for many, many years and it seemed to be the best option that addressed the needs of students, addressed the needs of our housing process, but it did create some significant backend work just to make sure that we weren’t having students move in on move-in day, not realizing, oh, there was this perhaps area of discomfort.
Then, round three is we did not put a gender on room. We did not make students select gender. Instead, students noted their desired roommate’s gender. Instead of saying, “I identify as a female,” I might say, “I’m interested in living with a cis female, or I could live with a cis female or I could live with a trans female. It doesn’t really matter to me.” So much for our housing application is based off of preferences, and so the thought being, well, can this also be a preference? Do we need to know their gender if we can just match on a desired gender of the room or a roommate gender?
This means we no longer we ask students for their gender in order to be housed. We are still learning the issues that come up with this because we ran this for the first time in June with our new student housing. But some of the initial reactions that we had, that I’m incredibly happy with and proud of, is that this did mean that we had to do a lot of stuff manually. We had seven or eight listed genders, and students could select all that apply. If we had a trans man, might say that he’s interested in living with other trans men or maybe cis men or even maybe has a preference of living with someone who’s non-binary. They could select as many as they wanted and then we would make sure that those things matched.
It was more of a manual process than we were expecting, and that’s something that I’m working with our housing software to figure out how can I finagle some of our special… I’m losing the name right now. Some of our things that we have manually added to our software, how can we make it do it this way? I don’t even remember the word right now. I don’t know why I’m blanking on this. I look at this website every day.
Another worry was would students take this seriously? I love our students, but would we have that 18-year-old student that’s like, “I’m not going to take this seriously, and make a joke of it and say that I only want to live with someone who is a different gender just to be silly or to not take this part seriously.” There was some hesitation if that would happen because we wouldn’t really have a way of knowing.
And then, we had to figure out how to house students with multiple preferences. What happens if you have someone who is willing or able to live with students of multiple different genders, but we’re pairing them with someone who’s only interested in living with someone of one gender, which is probably the same gender as them. There are some parts of this that we’re still tweaking.
However, this year, we had the fewest change requests over the summer that we’ve ever had in my 11, 10 years of housing students at Goucher. This shows me that there’s something that is working here. We’re still really figuring out what that is and how to hone in on that. But something is working because this is the only variable that we changed. And so, I believe that part of this is because we’ve taken gender out or we haven’t shone as much of a light on it. We’ve said this is part of it, but this is not all of it, and so we can still house you successfully without knowing this information.
Some things to consider in this is that it’s not about taking away options, it’s about adding additional options. Whenever we’re looking at housing, it’s always about how can I add more options? When we switched from mostly single gender halls to all gender halls, we didn’t take away the single gender hall option. We just flipped them.
And so, always thinking of how can we add more options? We want students to have their autonomy. This is their home. This is their basic need. And so, we want them to have as many decisions as possible to determine what is best for them. And so, this is just another way that we’re adding options for our students. It might not work the first time. As you can see, we have tried lots of different things and there are things that haven’t worked. What I have noticed is that when students see that we’re trying, we are met with much less frustration.
There was a period of time where we still had to do male, female. It was the only way that our system was set up seven or eight years ago. But we were able to add a little blurb that says, “Hey, we recognize that male and female is not… This is a binary.” But we were able to acknowledge that and name that and say, “For housing purposes, unfortunately, this is what we need, but we recognize these other things.” Students took really well to that, of knowing it’s on their radar, the housing office doesn’t believe just in male and female.
And then, it’s about constantly assessing the needs of our students. And so, thinking about how things have changed over the last decade and how that means things are changing for your students. Maybe for you, it’s not gender. Maybe for you, it’s access. Maybe for you, it’s length of housing contract. What are the things that are happening on your campuses that you could consider differently about how you house your students and then being willing to change it? I’d be curious to know.
One of the things that I’ve noticed on our campus is that when I arrived at Goucher, we had a special interest house that was our healthy living, our smoke and drug-free, alcohol-free residence hall. That was a really, really popular hall when I first started. We were always wait listing students for this hall. We were starting to see such a decline that we now don’t even have that house anymore because we were only getting two or three applications a year. And so, I name that to the fact that the concept of sobriety is way less taboo than it was even five or six years ago. People feel more confident saying, “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke,” than they do. And so, that was a house that we were no longer filling. And so, we said, “Well, this is timed out and now we’re going to turn this into something else.” And so, that’s example of how we’ve assessed our student needs and said, “Okay, well, this residence hall can now be used for a different function that more closely aligns with what our students need right now.”
Some benefits of this is that our students are changing. There are so many things that our students can stress over and their housing application shouldn’t be one of them. We are all in housing. We know the stress and the tension that we feel during our housing process where students are just a little more on edge. It’s because this is their housing. This is their home for nine months to a year. Of course, they’re going to be stressed out about it. Anything that we can do to lessen that stress, I believe that we should be doing, especially if we have students that are already anxious about their gender or how they’re going to be housed based off of their gender. If we can take that away, if we can say that is not an issue, the relief that that offers to our students is not small.
Students being and feeling seen from the very start of their onboarding. If a student sees on their housing application, “Oh, I have all these options that I can choose,” that allows them to feel seen right away. For some of our students, they’re just going to glance past that and be like, “I am a female and I’m just going to mark that,” or, “This is who I want to live with.” But for our students that operate or exist outside of a gender binary, those questions are huge. Those questions make us feel seen and listened to and heard from the very beginning.
It also creates a space in which the housing office is already seen as a resource and an ally. It creates a more equitable housing process. It says, we’re going to be able to house everyone in the exact same way. Everyone’s going to have the same access to these rooms. That’s what we want for all of our students is to be able to go through things as similarly as possible, with the understanding that there are going to be differences.
I know that I just talked for a very long time. It’s partly because I can’t see your faces, and so I’m doing this nervous talking thing. But I would love to just open it up for conversation at this point, or if there are questions to answer them. But really thinking of could this work on your campus? What are your concerns? This is still research and stuff that I’m doing, and so I would love to know the things that I’m not thinking of for my own personal passion about this project that I’m doing at Goucher. Are there things that I’m not thinking about? And then, what would your administration think of this? If you think about implementing something like this on your campus, or even my round one, let’s just start the process of thinking about gender differently on our housing applications. How do you think that that would go? If there are questions.
Yes, Joshua. Oh, I can see the chat now too. Oh, what housing software do you use? We use The Housing Director, which was recently bought by StarRez. I think the thing that’s nice about The Housing Director and a lot of these bigger housing softwares is the fact that they’re, I don’t know why I’m forgetting, custom fields. That’s the word, custom fields, is that you can create a lot of custom fields, and then you can utilize those custom fields to run processes in the way that you want.
I think one of the things that we’ll be trying this year is the way that we set up the custom field last year did not allow us to use that custom field as a matching category, which is why we ended up having to do so much of it by hand. But, really, using our custom fields in a different way so that we can try to help the algorithm how students, instead of us having to do it all by hand. That’s just more from an efficiency standpoint. I continually find it fascinating to read first year student housing applications, and then I love to compare them to how they’re writing their housing applications in their fourth year. But custom fields, I think you can do a lot with that.
Another question was can you describe what the layout of your restroom facilities are in your residence halls? What was the transition to gender inclusive restrooms like? That is a great question. Our restrooms, depending on the hall, are set up different. We have suite style which, of course, they’re within the suite. We have some apartments, but the majority of our traditional residence halls are community bathrooms.
It has been really fascinating. Even when I started at Goucher, 11 years ago, most of the bathrooms were, at the time we called it co-ed, but were all gender. It’s a question that I get every single year during move-in is, generally from a family member, of but what about the bathrooms? The transition, I have always found, has been harder for families than for the students. And so, when we have someone that is seemingly concerned about the restroom, bathroom, I will follow up with the student in a couple of weeks and say, “Just want to check in. There seemed to be some concerns about this during move-in day,” and it never has an issue.
I will say that I think some of that is the makeup of who Goucher recruits and who Goucher students are. They’re just very open minded. 45% of our students this year identify somewhere on the LGBT continuum, and so there’s a lot. Our campus makeup is not probably super usual to some.
The other thing that’s nice though is that our residence halls also have a private bathroom on each floor. It gives students the option of here is our community bathroom, and all of us have those moments, or some of us might just have more comfort using a single bathroom.
Sorry, I’m reading. Joshua, you have a hard and important job. I think you all can see the questions, but this question is just about continuing to serve our LGBTQ+ students in the Texas political climate. I don’t know that I have an answer to that question. Like I said before, I think when our students can see that we’re aware and trying, that makes a huge difference.
There are still things in my office that we need to put some light onto and things that we need to change, but I’ve never had a student that has been upset with me when they know that I’m trying or when they know that I’m looking into things. I think, in some ways, Joshua, I’d love to get your contact information and talk to you in more detail another time, but I think sometimes we have to think about the fact that these are just humans who want to connect with other humans, and our processes are not always right.
Again, I work at a private school, and so I have some different autonomy that I get to work with that doesn’t necessarily exist at larger schools or even public schools. But what I can always know is that I’m a human and I can connect to other humans. And so, I guess I want to say that, not to minimize what even just conversations do for the population of students to just, like, “I see you. We know that you exist. We know that you’re here.” Like I said, I’m not envious of the role that you’re in.
But I think with all of our students, our students want a sense of belonging. They want to feel like they are members of the community and don’t have to hide who they are. I also think that college housing is also a beautiful place that you can be making changes. We are able to protect our students in this world that they’re not going to necessarily exist in as an LGBTQ+ student in the state of Texas. But what can we do when they’re on our campus to make them feel valued and able to explore their identities in different ways?
The question is, if you assign roommates based on preference, but you don’t know the gender of the student you’re assigning to, how does that work? Brianna, this is a good question and this is one of the things that I’m still working through. What I ended up doing this year is I did end up pulling their gender that’s on their enrollment application so that I could do a crossover just to see if there were any blatant things. This is bringing up one of my worries, which was will students not take this part seriously? What I found is that students really did take this seriously.
Students, I think, recognize that this is their housing assignment and this is where they’re living. And so, the majority of students said that they wanted to live with a female identified student or a male identified student. There was not a whole lot that existed outside of that. I looked really closely at that when I had a student that referenced something outside of male and female. I don’t know that that makes a whole lot of sense. But that is one of the things that I’m still working through is what is our checks and balances on that to make sure that we don’t have something happen at move-in day that we’re not really expecting.
Oh, I think I’m loving this chat between Joshua and Brianna. That’s nice. Are there other questions? I think one thing to think about, and this is I think maybe hitting on, Brianna, what you’re talking about maybe, is if we have two non-binary students that say, “I want to live with someone who’s non-binary.” I put them together. I have no idea what their sex at birth was, is, but I know that they both preference to be non-binary. It is totally possible that I house two students together that are AFAB and AMAB. For the sake of the application, I was like, “I’m not going to let myself worry about this because I want to see if two people who say, ‘I want to room with someone,’ if I match those two people, is that going to be an issue?” Those are things that I think that we’ll still learn. I think students will continue to learn about, what is my preference of who I’m living with?
But I think that there are absolutely scenarios in this process in which a female assigned at birth and a male assigned at birth are going to be rooming together, and as long as they are comfortable with it, I don’t have an issue with it. We let our upper class students room with whomever they would like, and so I recognize that this is a pretty progressive idea of, at the end of the day, there are times in which I’m probably putting two first year students in a room together that have a different sex at birth, but I also think that these are adults. They’re coming in. They’re like, “Well, what is important to me is to room with another non-binary student or another trans student,” and so I’m not going to be the person that gets in the way of allowing them that opportunity.
One of the questions was how was the conversation with your college’s administration about switching to mostly gender-neutral halls? I can see this being a challenge at many institutions. Yes. This is why I give a big caveat to recognizing that I’ve been able to practice and try a lot of things at the institution that I’m at. I have a lot of autonomy and I’m seen as the housing expert at Goucher. And so, I was able to just present information that’s like, “Look, our halls, when we had only some all gender halls, they were filling up first.” Students didn’t want to live in a single gender hall. Students, on their preferences, were saying, “I don’t want to live in a single gender hall. I want to live in an all-gender hall.”
And so, it’s much easier to go to administration when you have your housing applications that say, “I ran out of rooms at room draw, not because I don’t have rooms, I have plenty of rooms, but because 95% of our students want to be in all gender housing, but we don’t have rooms set up that way.” And so, whenever I’m trying to go to administration for a change, it is based on student data that I’ve been able to collect through housing applications.
It’s hard to argue. Our students have to stay on campus, but for schools that don’t have necessarily live on policy, why would we not be offering them things that allow them to stay on campus? If you have the beds, if you have the rooms, we want students to be on campus. That’s a huge revenue builder. But part of that is also offering students what they want in their housing. What we learned is that what students want is to live with whomever they want.
What options did you list for students to select? I would have to look. The ones that I know that come to mind are male, female, trans male, trans female, non-binary, a gender. I think that was it. I think that was it. And then, I think we probably had an other that offered a conditional format, which was to name something. But those are the ones that come to mind in what we listed.
It’s interesting, and this is a generalization and a little bit of an assumption, but when you see students’ preferences, it’s not like someone picked all six of them. No one picked every single option. People had very specific options. And so, that shows me that they were taking this question seriously. It wasn’t just a flippant anyone. It was like, “Okay, here is really who I would be comfortable living with.”
This has also helped from the sense of, many years ago, when we started seeing more trans students on our campus, we did ask the question of, “Do you identify outside of the gender binary?” If students said yes, we would ask them how they identify. If they said trans in some way, we would give them another dropdown that said, what is your housing preference? Depending on where you are in your transition, where your comfort level is, we recognize that you might just have a very specific style of housing that you’re going to be the most comfortable in and thrive in. That’s, ultimately, what I’m trying to offer is I want students to walk into their room and feel that, “Ah, I’m in my room.”
And so, for our trans students, a lot of times, they actually wanted to have a roommate, but we didn’t really know how to do that without causing any type… We didn’t want to set up any roommates to fail, especially because we live in a world in which the trans student is in the marginalized group, and we didn’t want to put anything in place to make that a bad experience.
And so, a lot of our trans students, for a while, just ended up being in singles. I hated that because I was like, “How do we fix this? We have trans students that want to have roommates, but I don’t know which of our students are going to be kind about this.” And so, that has also helped is that we’ve been able to give all of our students that want roommates a roommate because we’re asking questions in a different way.
If someone says that they’re interested in living with a female or a trans female, and then I have someone that says that they’re interested in living with a female or a trans female, I don’t know exactly how they identify, but I know that I can put them together because their preferences are the same.
Mark, I know. THD is slated to be done. I don’t know. We are looking at StarRez just because they’re connected to THD right now. But I am hopeful that any new housing software has ways that we can set it up that allows for the same thing. I think what it takes is there’s a lot of backend work that I’ve done on THD to make it work the way that I really want it to work. And so, I hope that that’s the same. I hope that whatever software we choose, there is enough backend work that I can do.
Housing softwares need to be thinking about this stuff. This is the direction that we’re heading, and so I think there’s this reality that students are going to start choosing schools that match these needs. Schools are going to lose students if we’re not thinking about this. And so, I’m hoping that housing softwares are also privy to this and thinking about this, too, that softwares are going to need to be made in a way that can accommodate lots of different student bodies and lots of different housing styles.
How closely are you able to work with your campuses’ Pride Center, LGBTQ+ center? Very close. Goucher is really small, and so we are lucky in the sense that so many of our colleagues are so close. I work with that office quite a bit. I think, also, it’s about having conversations, talking to my RAs, talking to the students that just chat and come into my office. As a queer woman myself, students know that about me so students come and talk to me just as a safe person frequently. I often will use that as times to have conversations of, “What do you think about this? What if I tried this?” I’m very transparent with them of, like, “Here’s things that I’m noticing are missing in our housing process. Did you experience this when you went through? How can we adjust this?” And so, I think a lot of it really is peer to peer and talking, not peer to peer, but me talking to students about what their experience is living on campus.
Because we’re a four year residential campus, I take it really, really seriously that I want them to have a good four years. There’s nothing that feels worse than a student that feels like they can’t live on campus, that they don’t feel great on campus, but they have to because that’s this rule that we’ve created. I want students to feel good being on campus.
Sorry. Thanks. I did miss this question. Was this a conversation that you personally initiated in your department? If not, who did? Graduate students. Do you have any suggestions for getting this conversation going? This was all personally initiated by me. This was just really looking at years and years of housing applications and watching the trends.
I am a data person at heart, and so I have lots of things in which I’ve kept tabs of how have our housing applications changed? How have preferences changed? I’ve seen that from our healthy living, from all gender versus single gender, from who do you want to roommate? I’m constantly collecting this data, and then have just been trying things.
Being at a large school, I think this is a very different conversation after ACPA had so many nuanced conversations with people about how this could or couldn’t work. I think it’s about starting at the simplest level, which is, are we meeting the needs of our students? Are we meeting the needs of our trans and non-binary students in our housing process specifically? I would guess that most of us would, unfortunately, have to answer no, but we’re trying to get there. And so, we’ve just been trying to get there.
I’d be really curious to know how some of your campuses work. How do you house your trans and non-binary students? Because I’d just be really curious how. If there’s a way that your institutions have figured out a way to do that without feeling like students have to out themselves, which was the biggest thing that was on my heart, was like, “I don’t want students to have to share this with me.” Coming out is such a personal thing, and coming out is something that we shouldn’t be forcing upon our students. I hated every single time that a student came in and I was like, “God, I really wish our housing process was set up in a way that they were able to share that information with me if and when they wanted, not because they wanted a specific housing assignment with their friend.”
I’m going to switch to the next slide, which is just my contact information. If you have any additional questions, I’m happy to stay on. I love talking about this stuff, but I also want to make sure that you have my contact information if you have questions. Sorry, I’m reading the chat and seeing the question that I missed earlier. If you have questions or if you want to set up a time to talk one on one, I believe very strongly in this.
Like I said before, I think that our college students are changing. We’ve seen them all change. It’s really wild in how quickly they’re changing. And so, housing offices have to start thinking about this because there are going to be points where students are asking questions about the residence halls and housing applications. If your answer is no or we don’t have a process in place, I think that that’s going to be where students are choosing other schools. Because why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you choose the place that has affirmed you and makes you feel like you’re part of a very specific process from the start?
Kehlani, I’m reading your thing again and, Brianna, your response. I think it goes back to what is your data showing? I have plenty of stuff that shows that our students are changing and that we need to change along with them. That is much easier to drive a conversation than we should do this. I do think that the world is changing and that that should just be on people’s minds, but whenever you have data to back it up, it’s easier.
Aretha, did you have a question? No. Okay. All right. Well, I am happy to stay on. I think some people have been maybe starting to head out. But if you have any questions, I’d be happy to stay on and chat for a few minutes. It has been great sharing this. Like I said, I could just give this information to everyone because I want everyone in housing to hear it, so thank you.
Yes. Thank you, Lindy. I want to thank everyone for joining us this afternoon or late afternoon, late morning, all of those great things. Thanks again to our sponsor, Roompact. We have two more webinars remaining for the fall. We have November 20th, which is well-intended expectations, unintended consequences, exploring Black RAs experiences at PWIs. That’s on November 20th. And then, our last one is December 5th.
The student staff are unionizing, so visit our Facebook page, Commission for Housing and Residential Life, to learn how to register for that if you haven’t already. Thank you all so much and we will remain until maybe 55 if folks have questions for Lindy.