In accordance with federal mandate, Clarke University will provide gender inclusive housing options to students who request these room accommodations starting in the 2017-18 school year. The Department of Residence Life at Clarke University will make several changes in the upcoming 2017-2018 academic year to make sure accommodations are available.
The change to provide gender-inclusive housing is in response to a federal mandate for institutions that receive federal funding.
It has been taught that individuals are either male or female based on their biological make-up. This biological make-up consists of an individual’s genetalia, their chromosomes, and hormones. This is considered an individual’s sex.
Gender inclusivity in an institution focuses on supporting individuals who identify with a gender that is different from their biological sex. Thus, gender-inclusive housing provides accommodations for students who may require different kinds of privacy.
Individuals, upon gaining acceptance to Clarke and filling out housing information, will be asked if gender-inclusive housing in required. Individuals who request the accommodation will be contacted in order to provide the best housing situation for their gender identity.
It is unsure whether members of the incoming class will use this policy change. Regardless, this was an accommodation the administration felt was necessary in order to remain inclusive to all Clarke students.
According to Clarke, a policy change like this is quite positive. Allowing students to feel comfortable and accepted regardless of their identity is something the university suggests is the biggest perk of the change. However, this does not mean that this policy was not being conducted unofficially already.
Kevin Utt, Dean of Student’s at Clarke University, states, “People come into our institution at different stages of their lives, in terms of their gender identity and expression. It is our duty as an institution to allow individuals with an identity that does not match their biological make-up to feel welcomed and comfortable. This is something that Clarke has typically done when the situation presented itself. However, it was much more difficult if the student was an underclassman due to our facilities that house them not having privatized bathroom facilities.”
Kevin Utt is referring to Mary Josita Hall, the all male residence hall, and Mary Benedict Hall, the all female residence hall. These dormitories have a handful of rooms that come with private bathrooms. Previously, however, these rooms were exclusively for resident assistants (RA’s).
In order for Clarke to be able to provide these accommodations for individuals who need them, the residence life student staff in Mary Benedict Hall and Mary Josita Hall will be placed in other rooms that do not have private bathrooms.
This change has sparked some unsettling and frustrating opinions from certain members of the residence life staff. A staffer who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “The staff has to deal with many responsibilities that regular students do not have to deal with. Having my own private bathroom was a perk.”
Other members of the residence life staff agree with the change and support it fully. Natascha Meyers, a senior manager, vocalized, “As a residence life staff [member], our job is to create a welcoming community. If we do not make this change to allow individuals to feel safe and comfortable, then we have failed our role.”
The rooms with private bathroom accommodations that are not used for individuals who need the accommodation will be available for those individuals who request it. This request will come with an extra housing charge.
A potential for abuse may reveal itself with this change. Students could potentially request the gender-inclusive housing option even if they do not need it. With regard to this potential abuse, Utt suggested that, “there are always going to be people in this world who try to cheat the system and take advantage. However, we believe that this change is more important than the people who might abuse it.”
There are also other concerns that students who have normative sex and gender identities will extort this policy in order to gain housing in a residence hall that is of the opposite gender (for example, a male student might request a female dorm even though that individual identifies as a male). This is something the institution will be looking out for and encourages the student body to remain attentive to and to report any activity that is not acceptable.
This policy change means good news for the trans community in the face of negative news for this community in other parts of the country, such as North Carolina. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law legislature that forbid individuals from using facilities that were different than their sex on their birth certificate. This was passed due to fear that transgender individuals posed a risk for cisgender individuals in their respective facility. As of March 30th, 2017, that legislature has since been partially repealed.
If students or community members have any questions regarding the gender-inclusive housing policy, they are encouraged to contact Kevin Utt, Dean of Student’s at Clarke University.